US senators ask Bush to visit Tibet during Olympics

Several US senators asked President George W. Bush on Friday to visit Tibet when he travels to China for the Olympics to back Washington's push for human rights in the Himalayan territory.

Bush is going to the Olympics in August although it is not certain if he will attend the opening ceremony, which lawmakers and human rights groups want him to boycott over China's recent crackdown in Tibet and human rights record.

Senior Democratic Senators Joseph Biden, John Kerry and Barbara Boxer and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe sent a letter to Bush Friday, calling for his administration to take specific actions to help resolve the crisis in Tibet, including making a presidential visit to Tibet during the Olympics.

They also wanted him to press Beijing to open a US consulate in Tibet's capital Lhasa and expand access to the region for international humanitarian officials and journalists.

"First and foremost, we ask that you make preparations to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region or other Tibetan areas when you travel to China this summer for the Olympic Games," they said in the letter.

"This would allow you to demonstrate support for American athletes as you also send a strong message of respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people."

The Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans have been killed and about 1,000 injured in the Chinese crackdown. China denies this, saying Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people.

Following the crisis, Bush had been pushing Beijing to hold talks with envoys of exiled Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who is seeking "meaningful" autonomy for his homeland.

The Dalai Lama's envoy said Thursday that a date would be set soon for a seventh round of formal talks between the Tibetan leader's side and China.

They held informal talks last Sunday in the Chinese city of Shenzhen -- the first known encounter between the two sides since deadly unrest erupted in the Himalayan region in March.

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse (AFP)

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