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BEIJING: China on Friday said the president of the UN’s General Assembly will take part in the Winter Olympics torch relay, which organisers announced would be closed to the public because of coronavirus fears.

Abdulla Shahid will participate in next month’s relay before the 4 February opening of the Games, Beijing’s foreign ministry said.

He is the second top UN official to attend the Winter Olympics which are the target of a US-led diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights abuses, including those against its Muslim Uyghur minority.

“China welcomes Mr. Shahid to the Beijing Winter Olympics and to serve as a torchbearer,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing, adding that Shaheed expressed his “firm support” for the Games. “He believes that the Beijing Winter Olympics will show the progress of science and technology, and show the best side of China and the best side of all mankind.” Shahid is a Maldivian politician who was elected head of the UN’s main deliberating body last year.

On Thursday he gave a speech urging countries worldwide and all warring parties to respect the traditional “Olympic Truce” during February’s Beijing Games.

“I solemnly appeal to all Member States to demonstrate their commitment to the Olympic Truce... and to undertake concrete actions at the local, national, regional and world levels to promote and strengthen a culture of peace and harmony based on the spirit of the Truce,” he told the General Assembly.

Beijing is keen to shore up international support for the Games, after a growing number of countries including Australia, the UK, Canada and Japan have joined the diplomatic boycott. Others nations like New Zealand have refused to send officials due to strict coronavirus restrictions.

UN chief Antonio Guterres will attend the Games’ opening ceremony, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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UN General Assembly president to join China’s Winter Olympic torch relay

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