China “uncovers Olympic kidnap plot”

China says it has uncovered a criminal ring planning to kidnap athletes at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Ministry of Public Security spokesman Wu Heping told a news conference today that the ring based in the troubled western Xinjiang region was one of two that had been broken up.

Wu said 35 people were arrested in the latest case between March 26 and April 6 for plotting to kidnap athletes, foreign journalists and other visitors during the August Olympics.

Wu said: “This violent terrorist gang hoped to sabotage the Beijing Olympics by creating an international impact.”

The news came after Gordon Brown revealed he will not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics although he will be there for the closing of the Games, Downing Street confirmed last night.

A No 10 spokeswoman said it had always been his intention that he would go only for the closing ceremony – when Britain accepts the Olympic torch from China ahead of the 2012 Games in London – and that the move did not represent a boycott.

“Our reasons for going are exactly the came as they have always been. We still think it is the right thing to do. There is no change in our position,” the spokeswoman.

Mr Brown publicly accepted an invitation to the Games in January during his official visit to China.

His spokesman confirmed officially that he would be going for the closing ceremony at a briefing for political journalists on March 19.

However the news was overshadowed by Mr Brown’s announcement that he had agreed to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, when he visits Britain in May, and attracted little attention.

As a result, some MPs have assumed that when Mr Brown said he was going to the Games he was referring to the opening ceremony.

LibDem leader Nick Clegg last night urged Mr Brown to press the Chinese to abandon plans for the Olympic torch relay to go through Tibet.

“From his reluctance to bring up human rights during his recent visit to China, to his last minute agreement to meet the Dalai Lama, the Prime Minister has failed to show real leadership on this vital issue,” he said. “He should now follow his decision not to attend the opening ceremony by insisting that the Chinese quickly enter into negotiations with the Dalai Lama.”

The White House said president George Bush would attend the Olympics, but left open the possibility he would skip the opening ceremonies.

Thousands of China supporters and protesters lined the route in San Francisco yesterday as the Olympic torch started its only relay in the US amid tense confrontations.

In front of the city’s ferry building, Christine Lias, 30, was surrounded by more than 30 Chinese-Americans after she shouted: “Free Tibet now!”

“Liar, liar, shame on you,” many in the group cried.

Reflecting divided feelings in the city – a fifth of whose population is of Chinese origin – thousands of pro-China spectators gathered along the route, many flying the five-star communist Chinese flag alongside US and Olympic flags. Many Chinese-Americans are proud their ancestral home is hosting the event and resent the protests.

Scott Bennett, 54, a Buddhist from San Mateo, California, who was carrying a Tibetan flag, was quickly confronted by supporters of the torch relay. “They are very aggressive. They were in our face,” he said.

Olympics chief Jacques Rogge said there were no plans to cut short a global relay ahead of the Games.