BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top filmmaker Zhang Yimou said Hollywood director Steven Spielberg's resignation as an adviser to the Beijing Olympics was "quite regrettable," but would not affect the Games, the China News Service said.
Zhang and Spielberg were working on the direction team for the opening and closing ceremonies for the August 8-24 Games, widely expected to be a spectacular affair showcasing China's rich culture and new confidence.
The absence of the three-times Oscar winner, who pulled out last month over China's policy on the conflict in the Sudan region of Darfur, would not have any effect on the Opening Ceremony, Zhang was quoted as saying by the semi-official China News Service.
Spielberg said China was doing too little to help halt the bloodshed in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, where Khartoum-linked militia have battled rebel groups.
"This has been a very difficult decision for me, as I have cherished the relationships with my Chinese counterparts, in particular ... Zhang Yimou, who is a close personal friend," the American said in his statement.
Some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in more than four years of conflict in Darfur, according to estimates by international experts. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.
China says it is concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur and has played an active role in pushing forward the peace process, while rejecting all attempts to "politicize" the Olympics.
Zhang, most famous for his Oscar-nominated films "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Hero," said preparations for August 8 opening ceremony had reached the stage of "large scale rehearsals with more than 10,000 performers."
The 56-year-old gave little else away as he spoke to reporters on entering the Great Hall of the People for the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body to China's National Parliament.
(Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani