updated 3/22/2007 3:20:08 PM ET 2007-03-22T19:20:08

Boycott the Beijing Olympics — over Darfur?

A major French presidential candidate has suggested just that, in hopes of pressuring China to stop protecting Sudan from sanctions over military and militia attacks on civilians.

French Olympic officials expressed surprise at Francois Bayrou’s boycott call at a pro-Darfur rally late Tuesday. At the same rally, the two leading presidential candidates joined Bayrou in pledging not to host any members of the Sudanese government in France.

That would mark a change in policy: President Jacques Chirac hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on the French Riviera at a summit of African leaders last month.

The Sudanese government is accused of funding militias and allowing its military to brutalize civilians in a conflict that has killed some 200,000 people and left 2.5 million homeless since 2003.

Chinese oppose sanctions
China — a U.N. Security Council permanent member with veto power — opposes any sanctions against Sudan, where it is the biggest foreign investor.

“If this drama does not stop, France would do itself credit by not coming to the Olympic Games,” Bayrou told the rally, his office said Wednesday.

“There is nothing easier than stopping this tragedy, this genocide,” said Bayrou, who visited Darfur on a private trip in 2005. “This is a political issue because China decided to bring its protection to the Khartoum regime.”

The Chinese Embassy in Paris did not respond to calls seeking a response to Bayrou’s comments. Faxed and phoned requests to China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing were not immediately answered.

Political implications
Polls show Bayrou trailing a close third behind Socialist Segolene Royal and narrow front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy, of Chirac’s ruling conservative party, before the first round of voting on April 22. Chirac is not seeking a third term, and he endorsed Sarkozy on Wednesday.

Royal, Bayrou and Sarkozy signed an eight-point declaration on Darfur presented at the rally. In it, they promised not to host the Sudanese and pledged to “energetically denounce” countries that oppose sanctions against Sudan, as well as to enact “appropriate” sanctions by France alone.

Royal, who also addressed the rally, did not go so far as to appeal for an Olympic boycott. But she called on France and the international community to lobby China over Sudan before the 2008 Summer Games.

“It is the moment to put pressure, before the Olympics,” said Royal, who traveled to China in January.

Henri Serandour, head of France’s Olympic Committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was surprised by Bayrou’s comments but would not cast judgment on them “because we are in an electoral campaign.”

‘We cannot stay silent’
Chirac, whose term ends in May, also called for stronger action in a statement sent to the rally.

“We cannot stay silent before one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time,” he said. “If atrocities follow, if the word is not kept, the Security Council will have no other choice, but to adopt sanctions.”

China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil and sells it weapons and military aircraft. Beijing has taken a hands-off approach to political violence and human rights abuses in Africa, where China has been increasing its investment to tap Africa’s vast natural resources.

In a small but important step, Chinese President Hu Jintao traveled to Sudan last month and urged al-Bashir to allow a larger U.N. role in Darfur, where poorly equipped African peacekeepers have failed to defend civilians.

President Carter moved to keep Americans home from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Dozens of U.S. allies joined in, though not France. Four years later, the Soviets led a 14-nation boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.

Foreign political leaders and advocacy groups have previously sought to exert pressure on Beijing before the Games over China’s record on human rights, use of the death penalty, and curbs on press freedoms, among other issues.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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