BEIJING – The head of the International Olympic Committee said Monday said he was "very concerned" about unrest in Tibet, but played down talk of a boycott of the Beijing Games.
The extraordinary comments by IOC President Jacques Rogge illustrate how the largest anti-government protests in Tibet in two decades are continuing to rock the Olympic movement, four months ahead of the summer games.
People protesting China's policies on Tibet and other issues have repeatedly attempted to disrupt the Olympic torch relay, bringing new publicity to long-standing complaints about the communist regime's human rights record.
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"I'm very concerned with the international situation and what's happening in Tibet," Rogge said Monday at a meeting of the IOC and national Olympic committees in Beijing.
"The torch relay has been targeted. The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and calls for a rapid peaceful resolution in Tibet," Rogge said in a brief speech at the meetings' opening ceremony.
China has faced rising criticism ahead of the August Olympics on issues ranging from Tibet to curbs on free speech and the government's close ties to the Sudanese regime accused of overseeing atrocities in Darfur.
On Monday, a Beijing Olympics spokesman criticized protesters who tried to disrupt the torch relay in London, saying their actions were a "disgusting" form of sabotage by Tibetan separatists.
Demonstrators, many of them challenging China's policies in Tibet and Darfur, tried to board a torch relay bus and attempted to grab the torch during the procession Sunday. One protester tried to snuff out the flame with what appeared to be a fire extinguisher.
Police said 37 people were arrested for a range of public order offenses. Security for the event was tight, with several dozen uniformed agents jogging alongside torchbearers to shield them from repeated onslaughts.
"A few Tibetan separatists attempted to sabotage the torch relay in London, and we strongly denounce their disgusting behavior," said Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organizing committee.
While Rogge made no direct reference to the protests, he denounced violence "for whatever reason," as "not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games."
Rogge acknowledged that "some politicians have played with the idea of boycotts," but added: "As I speak today, however, there is no momentum for a generalized boycott."
"We need the unity of the Olympic movement to help us overcome the difficulties. Our major responsibility is for offering good games to the athletes who deserve them," Rogge said. "The athletes deserve and the world expects it, and the unity of the Olympic movement will deliver it," he said.
Rogge's comments follow similar statements over the weekend by the head of an organization overseeing 205 national Olympic committees.
"Any politician who is pushing for a boycott is committing a serious error," Mario Vazquez Rana, the president the Association of National Olympic Committees, said Saturday in Beijing. "For me a total boycott, a partial boycott, is totally out of the question," he said.
Various foreign politicians have floated the idea of staying away from the Games' opening ceremony. In Saturday editions of Le Monde, one of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Cabinet ministers was quoted as saying China would have to release political prisoners and open a dialogue with Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, for Sarkozy to take part in the Aug. 8 ceremony.
China's communist government said 22 have died in violence stemming from protests in Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited regions of western China that turned violent on March 14.
Supporters of the Dalai Lama says up to 140 people have died, including eight killed when security forces fired on protesters on Thursday night.
China's blames the Dalai Lama's supporters for fomenting the violence and has rejected international calls to open a dialogue to address concerns its policies are harming the region's traditional Buddhist culture.
Despite Rogge's comments, the IOC has repeatedly said it would not become involved in the politics of the host nation. Rogge told members that China's policies on Tibet have no bearing on the Olympics and dismissed talk of a boycott, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. IOC officials have not denied Friday's report.
Among the attendees at Monday's meeting, IOC coordination commission member Alex Gilady said he expected the pressure to ease after the Paris and San Francisco legs of the torch relay that are expected to draw the most protesters.
"The important message is to tell our athletes that some people are trying to use them and to ride on their backs for solutions that the world has to find in other places like the United Nations," said Gilady, also a senior vice president at NBC sports, which holds the rights to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S.
British IOC member Craig Reedy dismissed the London protests as "isolated flashpoints."
"It wasn't as serious as you would have thought on television," Reedy said.