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German fencer to skip opening ceremony in protest

Aug. 07, 2008, 10:48 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) A German fencer is fashioning her own opening ceremony, skipping the official one to protest China's communist government.

Imke Duplitzer, who won a silver medal in Athens, will stay away from the 91,000-seat National Stadium on Friday as thousands of athletes parade in front of Chinese President Hu Jintao and International Olympic Committee head Jacques Rogge.

"Maybe I'll be in the German House, or maybe I'll be somewhere else reading a book and drinking a beer," she said Thursday.

Few of the 10,500 athletes came to Beijing to make a political point. But some, like Duplitzer, intend to speak out against Chinese policies in Tibet and Darfur, or human rights issues such as freedom of religion and speech.

Competing in her fourth Olympics, Duplitzer is also one of 40 athletes in the Beijing Games who signed an open letter to Hu. It urges the Chinese president to find a peaceful solution in Tibet, end China's death penalty, and protect human rights such as freedom of speech and religion.

The letter is also signed by 110-meter world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba, high jumper Blanka Vlasic of Croatia, Panamanian long jumper Irving Saldino and U.S. 400-meter runner Dee Dee Trotter.

"I'm in a different position from other young athletes," Duplitzer said. "This is my fourth games. I understand athletes want to march in the opening ceremony because it's a life dream. That's OK with me."

Chinese and IOC officials expect between 7,000 and 9,000 athletes at the opening ceremony. It's not known how many are staying away in protest. The vast majority are arriving late to avoid the hot and humid conditions in Beijing, where the air pollution index Thursday reached 96, which came close to exceeding the national level for acceptable air.

Rogge has said athletes will only be restricted from expressing themselves at Olympic venues, on the victory podium or at the athletes' village. Anywhere else in Beijing, they will be free to speak about any topic. This could also mean wearing pins, T-shirts or other garments to express an opinion. He has said they will be free to talk with reporters about any subject when they are speaking in the main media area where athletes and reporters can talk immediately after performances on the field.

China's authoritarian government hopes the games will show off a modern, open country - and protests threaten to derail the message. It's not clear how protests will be greeted by ordinary Chinese who are growing increasingly sensitive at what they see as unwarranted criticism of the games.

"I am not blaming 1.3 billion Chinese," Duplitzer said. "There is a big difference from the Chinese people who are looking forward to celebrating the games, and the government, which is using the opening ceremony as a platform to show how perfect everything is in China."

"It's a bit of a circus, and I refuse to attend it," she added.


AP Sports Writer Paul Logothetis contributed to this report.