Chinese president speaks out

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BEIJING --- A week before the start of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese President Hu Jintao said Friday that the caliber of athletic competition and enhanced friendship among nations, not political disputes, will determine whether the games are a success.

In a rare interview with foreign media, the typically reserved Hu repeatedly said Beijing's wanted to play host to the Olympics in an effort to underscore China's desire for peaceful, friendly interaction with the rest of the world.

Though Hu did not directly mention the controversies over China's human rights lapses and restrictions on media coverage that have buffeted the event, he decried injecting political issues into the games and reminded reporters to report fairly.

"We believe that politicizing the Olympics does not favor resolving these issues, and also violates the Olympic spirit," Hu said.

He later said: "We hope that foreign reporters while in China will respect our laws and rules, report objectively and help communication and understanding between China and the peoples of the world."

The exchange was one of the few discordant notes in a carefully controlled encounter. The reporters, from about two dozen countries, were required to submit questions in advance, and a Foreign Ministry official called on them. When the German newspaper Die Zeit tried to pose a question on human rights at the end of the 70-minute meeting, Hu ignored him.

In his nearly six years as China's top leader, Hu has been interviewed by foreign media only a handful of times.

Friday's meeting was designed to carry the same message to the world Hu's government's hopes the Olympics will do for China -- promote a friendlier face for a nation unsettling the established powers.

"The determining factor in securing the success of the Olympic Games is to work vigorously to promote the Olympic spirit featuring friendship, solidarity and peace," Hu said. "The key is to ensure that athletes from all countries will have a level playing field to compete fairly.

"We need to ensure that our friends from the five continents can further enhance their mutual understanding and deepen their friendship during the games," Hu added.

He called it "only inevitable that people from different countries and regions may not see eye to eye with one another on some different issues." But he said that those differences should be worked out through dialogue.

Hu is trying to cultivate a more accessible image at home, partly in response to unfavorable comparisons with the popular, grandfatherly prime minister, Wen Jiabao.

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