July 3, 2008 / 7:58 PM / 11 years ago

Bush to attend China Olympics opening ceremonies

President Bush waves from the steps of the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush will attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in China next month, the White House said on Thursday.

Human rights activists have been calling for world leaders to boycott the opening ceremonies to protest China’s record on civil rights.

China’s crackdown on Tibet after deadly riots in March sparked worldwide protests over Beijing’s policies, including demonstrations that disrupted the procession of the Olympic torch.

“The president and Mrs. Bush will attend the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games on August 8,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement announcing Bush’s trip to South Korea, Thailand and China next month.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will decide next week whether to attend the opening of the Games, depending on the outcome of talks between Beijing and envoys of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s Buddhist leader.

Bush had earlier rejected calls to boycott the Olympics but the White House previously steered clear of saying whether the U.S. president would attend the opening ceremonies.

“He believes he’s going to China to support first and foremost our athletes. He sees this as a sporting competition,” Perino said.

Bush will discuss human rights and religious freedoms with Chinese President Hu Jintao when they meet in China in August and on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Japan next week, she said.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by John O'Callaghan

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