Politics & Government

McCain says Bush should skip Olympics' opening

WASHINGTON — Pressure is mounting on President Bush to protest China's human-rights record by skipping the Olympic Games' opening ceremonies this summer.

Republican presidential contender John McCain on Thursday stopped just short of siding with his two Democratic rivals, who have called on Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies, though none have called on him to forgo attending the games.

McCain, in a statement, cited British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision not to attend the opening ceremonies and said he believes Bush "should evaluate his participation in the ceremonies surrounding the Olympics and, based on Chinese actions, decide whether it is appropriate to attend."

"If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies," McCain said. "It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us."

The White House has said Bush is going to the games but declined to say whether he would attend the opening ceremonies. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday that it was "way too far in advance" to announce the president's schedule.

Boycotting the opening ceremonies in Beijing would please human-rights activists and demonstrate to Chinese dissenters that they're not alone, but it also would anger an oncoming world power that the U.S. counts on to help finance America's growing government debt, contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions and ensure that booming East Asia's remaining political quarrels don't escalate into war.

Asked on Sean Hannity's radio show Thursday whether Bush would boycott the opening ceremonies, Vice President Dick Cheney said Bush "has made it clear that he's planning on going, that he thinks this is primarily a sporting event."

He went on to say that "boycotting the Olympics isn't the right way to go; that really penalizes our athletes. And so I think he certainly indicated at this point he does plan to go, and I'd be surprised if he didn't."

Perino said Thursday that Bush plans to speak publicly and "privately to the Chinese about human-rights freedoms, political speech freedoms, and he's going to continue to do that before, during and after the Olympics."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called on Bush to not attend the opening ceremonies.

One Bush ally, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she's asked Bush for months to reconsider his decision to attend the games.

"I've asked that we take a stand for freedom and not have any U.S. government official participate," the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee said Thursday. "No American official should give their blessing to what is becoming the 'Genocide Olympics.'"

Last week, 15 members of the House of Representatives — 14 Democrats and Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, a longtime critic of the Chinese government — also called on Bush to reconsider his decision to attend the games.

The calls for a presidential show of disapproval come as the Olympic torch moved from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where some 1,200 police were on hand to stop the kind of disruptions that marred the relay earlier in the week in London and Paris amid protests over China's rights record.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge acknowledged Thursday that protests of the Olympic torch during the past week have been tough on the Olympic movement.

"It is a crisis, no doubt about it," Rogge told other Olympics representatives meeting in Beijing as he urged them to reassure athletes that the games "will be very well-organized."

Adding to the sense of emergency surrounding the games Thursday was announcement by the Chinese government that it had smashed a Muslim terrorist ring that was plotting to kidnap Olympic athletes.

The Ministry of Public Security said it broke up a terror ring of 35 members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in this predominantly Muslim city in far west China. It said the group planned a variety of action to disrupt the Aug. 8-24 games, including setting off bombs in Beijing and Shanghai.

The arrests occurred March 26 to April 6, Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping said, adding that police also seized 21 pounds of explosives, eight detonators and two explosive devices.

A sense of crisis surrounding the Beijing Olympics intensified on other fronts. In Brussels, Belgium, the European Parliament voted 580-24 to urge European Union leaders to consider a mass boycott of the Olympics opening ceremony unless China enters direct negotiations with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, said he supports the Beijing Olympics and opposes violence around the torch relay, but he warned China that pro-Tibetan activists are entitled to speak out.

"Nobody has the right to say 'shut up,'" the Dalai Lama said in Japan, where he was on a stopover on the way to a speaking tour in the United States.

Thousands of Tibetans launched an uprising that jolted wide swaths of China last month. China has repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama of instigating unrest among Tibetans in an effort to spoil its bid to host the best Olympic Games ever.

(Tim Johnson in Beijing and John Walcott in Washington contributed to this report.)