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Sudanese refugee chosen to carry US flag at opening ceremonies

Other News Materials 7 August 2008 01:45 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The US Olympic team has selected Sudanese refugee Lopez Lomong to carry the American flag during the opening ceremonies of the games in Beijing on Friday, a move that could embarrass China and Sudan.

"This is the most exciting day ever in my life," Lomong, who became a US citizen last year, said in a statement released by the US Olympic Committee based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"It's a great honor for me that my teammates chose to vote for me."

The Olympic team voted for Lomong, 23, after news broke late Tuesday that China had revoked the visa for Joey Cheek, an American speedskating gold medalist from the 2006 winter games who has been an outspoken critic of the Sudanese government over the conflict in Darfur.

China is a major consumer of Sudanese oil and has blocked strong action on the UN Security Council to punish the Sudanese government for supporting militia in Darfur, where four years of violence have left more than 300,000 people dead.

Cheek told the Washington Post that Chinese officials refused to provide a reason for revoking his visa. Cheek is the co-founder of Team Darfur and has used his success to call attention to the humanitarian crisis there.

Lomong is a member of the US track and field team and will compete in the 1,500-metre dash in his first international performance.

Lomong was born in Sudan and fled the war-torn country at the age of 6. He spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya until he arrived in the United States and received citizenship in July 2007.

"The American flag means everything in my life - everything that describes me, coming from another country and going through all of the stages that I have to become a US citizen," Lomong said.

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