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IOC's Rogge 'very concerned' about Tibetan unrest ahead of Beijing Games

BEIJING -- Under pressure to speak out on human rights and concerned about a threatened Olympic boycott, athletes want IOC president Jacques Rogge to provide stronger guidelines on how they should conduct themselves.

As Rogge began the first of five days of meetings Monday, the last run of the Paris torch relay was canceled following protests. The disruption came less than a day after demonstrators scuffled with London police. More problems are expected Wednesday during the route through San Francisco, the only stop in North America.

Rogge was asked by the president of the European Olympic Committees to spell out "what athletes can and cannot do" to express political views during the Beijing Olympics.

Patrick Hickey, head of the 49-member group, met Sunday with Rogge. The meeting came with the Summer Games four months away and against a backdrop of last month's riots in Tibet, China's ties with Sudan and criticism about the government's human rights record.

"We just want him [Rogge] to tell us straight out where athletes cannot give their opinion or make demonstrations," Hickey said. "There will be absolutely no gagging whatsoever of our athletes. We just want to be absolutely clear, and the only one to hear it from is the IOC president."

Hickey said Rogge promised to lay out ground rules Thursday when the IOC executive board meets with ANOC's membership. In general, athletes are prohibited under the Olympic Charter from expressing political views while at Olympic venues or from wearing clothing or other symbols that carry a political message.

"Our athletes are coming under pressure from the media," Hickey said. "We want to get them out of that pressure by telling them exactly what they can and cannot do. Then they can return to concentrate on training."

Hickey, an IOC member from Ireland, said there was no talk of a boycott within the ANOC, which represents 205 national Olympic committees.

"We are all 100 percent supporting going to the games," he said. "There's nobody talking about boycotts, not the slightest. No boycott of any description."

On Monday, Rogge brought up the issue of boycotts and protests along the torch relay, but he gave his brief speech after most Chinese officials had left the dais following opening speeches to the ANOC general assembly.

"I'm very concerned with the international situation and what's happening in Tibet," Rogge said. "The torch relay has been targeted. The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concerns and calls for a rapid, peaceful resolution in Tibet."

Rogge also tried to quell talk of any kind of boycott.

"Some politicians have played with the idea of boycotts," Rogge said. "As I speak today, however, there is no momentum for a generalized boycott."

Mario Vazquez Rana, president of the ANOC, said his group wants China "to find through dialogue and understanding a fair and reasonable solution to the internal conflict that affects the Tibet region."

IOC coordination commission member Alex Gilady said he expected the pressure to ease after the Paris and San Francisco relay legs.

"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.

"I don't think the international torch relay is a good thing because it's not needed," Gilady added. "But now it's water under the bridge."

Beijing organizers have been angered and embarrassed by the rude reception greeting the torch. Though the torch was extinguished in Paris, this does not mean the Olympic flame was extinguished. The flame is actually carried in a separate lanternlike device along the route.

"The general public is very angry at this sabotage by a few separatists," said Wang Hui, a spokeswoman for the organizing committee. "We can see that such disruption by a few separatists is not supported by the people."