Hong Kong democrat denies promoting Olympic boycott

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HONG KONG, Oct 26 (Reuters) Veteran Hong Kong democracy campaigner Martin Lee denied today that he favoured a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, after coming under attack for urging the United States to use the event to press China on human rights.

Lee came in for a barrage of criticism from pro-Beijing politicians after he published an article in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 18 entitled ''China's Olympics Opportunity''.

In the piece, Lee called on US President George W Bush to: ''use the next 10 months to press for a significant improvement of basic human rights in my country, including press, assembly and religious freedoms.

''How does it profit our nation if it wins gold medals but suffers from the continued absence of democracy, human rights and the rule of law?'' the article said.

Pro-Beijing politicians seized on the comments, saying Lee was inviting foreign interference in China's internal affairs.

Hong Kong's number two official, Chief Secretary Henry Tang, told reporters: ''I don't think we should politicise the Olympics.'' The sentiments echoed comments last week by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who said he opposed attempts by ''external forces'' to meddle in Hong Kong's business.

Lee said he was merely echoing calls by Beijing officials for human rights improvements from the Games.

''I totally fail to understand how any sensible person reading this article in its entirety could have any criticism of it,'' Lee told Reuters, insisting he wanted to see a successful Olympics.

''This is a conspiracy with elections coming up, the (pro-Beijing politicians) are trying to generate nationalism and patriotism to try and get some votes,'' the founding chairman of the Democratic Party added.

Two tabloid newspapers on Friday carried identical front page headlines denouncing Lee's ''frenzied betrayal of country''.

''No matter what excuses (Lee) makes, I think it's useless.

What he should do is frankly admit he said something inaccurate, and express some attitude of contrition,'' said Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the DAB -- Hong Kong's biggest pro-Beijing party.

REUTERS BJR RK1805

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