Merkel says she will not attend opening of Beijing Olympics
Ian Traynor in Brussels and Jonathan Watts in Beijing
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, yesterday became the first world leader to decide not to attend the Olympics in Beijing.
As pressure built for concerted western protests to China over the crackdown in Tibet, EU leaders prepared to discuss the crisis for the first time today, amid a rift over whether to boycott the Olympics.
The disclosure that Germany is to stay away from the games' opening ceremonies in August could encourage President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to join in a gesture of defiance and complicate Gordon Brown's determination to attend the Olympics.
Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, became the first EU head of government to announce a boycott on Thursday and he was promptly joined by President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic, who had previously promised to travel to Beijing.
"The presence of politicians at the inauguration of the Olympics seems inappropriate," Tusk said. "I do not intend to take part."
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, confirmed that Merkel was staying away. He added that neither he nor Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister responsible for sport, would attend the opening ceremony.
Hans-Gert Pöttering, the politician from Merkel's Christian Democratic party who chairs the European parliament, encouraged talk of an Olympic boycott this week and invited the Dalai Lama to address the chamber in Strasbourg, while another senior German Christian Democrat, Ruprecht Polenz, said a boycott should remain on the table.
"I cannot imagine German politicians attending the opening or closing ceremonies [if the Tibetan crackdown continued]," he said.