Tibet crisis won't dissuade Bush from attending Olympics

The United States made a high-level plea Thursday to China to show restraint in Tibet and open talks with the Dalai Lama but said the unrest will not force President George W. Bush to miss the Olympics Games.

Bush intends to visit Beijing for the Olympics in August because it is a sporting rather than a political event, but in making the trip, he will be able to speak his mind to President Hu Jintao, Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Unlike other people, "he's able to speak very frankly to the Chinese president or the Russian president or whoever it might be," Perino told reporters, recalling that Bush has said previously he wants to meet with Hu.

And at Bush's request, she said, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi late Wednesday to urge China to show restraint with protesters in Tibet and open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

Rice, who briefed Bush on events in Tibet during a breakfast meeting with him, told reporters that she had urged Yang to ensure his government acts with restraint as well as open a dialogue with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

"I urged restraint and most importantly we have urged for many years that China engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama who represents an authoritative figure who stands against violence and who also stands for the cultural autonomy of the Tibetan people but made very clear that he does not stand for independence," Rice said.

"And I believe that this would be a basis on which China could reach out to an authoritative figure for peace and so we are encouraging that," Rice said.

"So I hope that China would exercise restraint but it is also important that all parties refrain from violence."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Tuesday that Beijing was willing to hold talks, but only after the Dalai Lama gave up what is viewed in China as a campaign for Tibetan independence.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland after the 1959 uprising, of masterminding the latest unrest, a charge the Buddhist monk strongly denies.

But Perino said the ongoing crisis will not force Bush to change plans.

"The president's position is that this should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics," Perino said when asked whether Bush should rethink his plans for the Olympics.

"It is a chance for that country to put its best face forward and it's also a chance for other countries to learn more about the country," Perino said, recalling Bush's position.

"And we are very concerned about what's happening in Tibet and we have expressed those concerns," she said.

A week of protests against China's 57-year rule of Tibet erupted into rioting in Lhasa on Friday. Demonstrations have since spilled over into nearby Chinese provinces with sizeable ethnic Tibetan populations.

China said rioters killed 13 innocent civilians in Lhasa while denying that it used deadly force to end the protests. Exiled Tibetan leaders have said about 100 people were believed to have been killed in the Chinese crackdown.

Thousands of soldiers were seen in Lhasa on Thursday amid reports of a huge military build-up.

With no presence on the ground in Lhasa, the United States is not in a position to give details about events in Tibet.

"I can say that our embassy has requested access to those areas and thus far that access has not yet been granted," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Copyright © 2008 AFP

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