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China expressed regret on Thursday over the decision by movie director Steven Spielberg to quit as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of its policies in war-torn Sunday.

The Hollywood director said on Tuesday he was quitting as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Games because China was doing too little to help halt bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region, where Khartoum-linked militia have battled rebel groups.

"We express regret," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media accused Western countries on Thursday of abusing the Olympic Games to pressure Beijing, saying boycotts by movie director Steven Spielberg and others "disgusted" the Chinese people.

Nine Nobel Peace laureates also wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging he change policy towards Sudan, where China has big oil investments. Beijing has often said it is working for peace in Darfur.

While China's Foreign Ministry and the Beijing Olympic organizers have so far not commented on this volley of criticism, the Global Times -- a current affairs tabloid run by the Communist Party's People's Daily -- hit back.

"Western exploitation of the Olympics to pressure China immediately provoked much disgust among ordinary Chinese people," the paper said.

"The vast majority of Chinese people have expressed bafflement and outrage at the Western pressure. In their view, it's absolutely absurd to place the Darfur issue, so many thousands of miles away, on the head of China."

Even Chinese citizens who complain about losing homes to Olympics Games building opposed Western pressure, the paper said.

Jin Canrong, an international relations expert at the People's University of China in Beijng, told the paper that the renewed criticism over Darfur showed Western powers were exploiting their "media hegemony" to whip up prejudice.

"Whoever uses this humanitarian issue to criticize China and put pressure on China gains something of a halo," Jin told the paper. "The West has seized on China's tremendous emphasis on the Olympic Games to criticize China."

Some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in more than four years of conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur, according to estimates by international experts. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, while not directly referring to Spielberg's decision, called on "relevant parties" to respect the facts about the "positive role played by China on the Darfur issue" and shy away from politicizing the Olympics.

"As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organizations and individuals to link the two as one," the embassy said.

A spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games had no immediate reaction to Spielberg's announcement.