From CNN – The United Nations secretary general has joined a growing list of high-profile leaders who have indicated they will not attend the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony in Beijing, as the troubled torch relay moved to Argentina on Friday.
Ban-Ki Moon said he had told Chinese authorities that he “may not” be in a position to attend due to scheduling issues.
His spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Ban was planning “a substantive visit to China” instead, The Associated Press reported.
“The secretary-general had conveyed to the Chinese government some months ago that he may not be in a position to accept the invitation to attend this important event due to scheduling issues,” Okabe said.
Ban’s announcement came a day after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would not attend.
Canada’s PM Stephen Harper and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be there either, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering staying away.
U.S. President George W. Bush has not yet committed to attending the opening ceremony, and Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have urged him to boycott it, but he does plan to attend the games.
“While he’s there, he can also take an opportunity to press them on religious freedoms, because this is something that is going to continue after the Olympics,” said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.
“And not attending an opening ceremony, whether anyone does or not, does not really change the fact that we need to press them before, during and well after the Olympics.”
Argentine officials are preparing for possible disruptions to Friday’s planned leg of the Olympic torch run in Buenos Aires following the protests which marred the sections in Britain, France and the United States.
“There is a little bit more attention, mostly because of the things that have happened in London, in Paris, in San Francisco,” said Francisco Irarrazaval, an official with Argentina’s sports ministry.
“But we also don’t want to convert this into a military event. This is a sports event, it is a cultural event, a beautiful event.”
The protests that have occurred in other cities are likely to be repeated here, but in diminished form, protest planners said. The denunciations of China’s human rights policy will be accompanied by “creative and peaceful” interventions, one planner said.
“We know that it will not be violent,” said Axel Borgia, from the World Human Rights Torch Relay group.
“We joined all type of organizations from Tibet. They too will carry out activities during the relay of the China torch. Our activity is beforehand. We don’t plan anything during the Olympic torch.”
The flame is to be carried 13 kilometers (8 miles) by athletes, artists, journalists and even an economist and a Taiwanese businessman — each person is slated to carry the torch for 90 seconds.
The final carrier is to be Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina’s top female tennis player and winner of the silver medal in Seoul in 1988.
Meanwhile, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai has pulled out of this weekend’s leg of the relay in Tanzania in protest against China’s record on human rights issues.
Maathai cited its policies in Sudan’s Darfur region, Tibet, Myanmar and Kenya in a statement on the Web site of The Green Belt Movement, the environmental organization she founded in 1977. It helps women and their families plant trees in Kenya.
“In all of these issues, China can make a difference and that is what the world is urging them to do,” said Maathai, an environmentalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
“I am troubled that these Olympics, rather than being a unifying movement, have become most divisive.”
In Beijing on Thursday, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called the events a “crisis” in an address to the 205 National Olympic Committees.
“It is a crisis, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But the IOC has weathered many bigger storms. The history of the Olympic games is fraught by a lot of challenges. This is a challenge.”
Still, he defended the demonstrators’ rights to protest.
“A person’s ability to express his or her opinion is a basic human right and as such does not need to have a specific clause in the Olympic Charter because its place is implicit,” he said.
“But we do ask that there is no propaganda nor demonstrations at Olympic games venues for the very good and simple reason that we have 205 countries and territories represented, many of whom are in conflict, and the games are not the place to take political nor religious stances.”
He predicted that there would be few breaches of decorum. “Athletes are mature and intelligent people,” he said. “They will know what they can say or not say. If they have doubts, the IOC and the NOCs are here to guide them.”