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Sarkozy to attend Olympics opening

July 09, 2008 13:50 IST

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will attend the opening ceremony of next month's Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images], representing the European Union as well as his own country, his office said on Wednesday.

- The Olympics, just a month away

Rights activists have called for world leaders to boycott the ceremony on August 8 to protest China's record on civil rights.

Sarkozy met Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a G8 summit in northern Japan [Images] on Wednesday.

Ties between Beijing and Paris were strained in April when pro-Tibet demonstrators disrupted the passage of the Olympic torch through the French capital, triggering anti-French protests in China and calls for a boycott of French goods.

"The president of the Republic has confirmed to the Chinese president his intention of traveling to Beijing on August 8 to take part in the opening ceremony of the 29th Olympic Games," the French presidency's office said in a statement.

As well as France [Images], Sarkozy would represent the EU because France holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc, the presidential office's statement said, adding that other EU leaders had agreed with his decision to attend the opening ceremony.

Sarkozy has previously said his presence at the Olympics depended on China's willingness to talk to the Dalai Lama [Images], comments that irritated China, which considers Tibet [Images] an internal affair.

Two meetings between envoys of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and the Chinese government have taken place, and another one is scheduled for October, a French official said.

China's crackdown on Tibet after deadly riots in March sparked worldwide protests over Beijing's policies.

A French official said Wednesday's 30-minute meeting between Sarkozy and Hu went very well.

"The French-Sino relationship is once again back on track as a strategic partnership," the official said, adding France had reiterated its support for China after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province in May.

Chinese state media reported last week Sarkozy could expect a cold shoulder from the public if he decided to attend the Games, with one official newspaper saying people in China simply did not want the French president at the Olympics.

Some Beijing residents reacted coolly to the news that Sarkozy would be coming.

"Chinese people should show him the same respect and give the same warm welcome they would to other leaders," said consultant Dai Feng, 23. "But we should not forget about the humiliations that he has put on us."

U.S. President George W. Bush and the leaders of some other countries including Australia, Japan and the Netherlands are also due to attend the opening of the Games.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country will host the next Olympics in 2012, is due to attend the closing ceremony.

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