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Bush calls for China dialogue with Dalai Lama envoys

US President George W Bush for the first time publicly pressed China to hold talks with representatives of Tibet's spiritual leader.

world Updated: Mar 28, 2008 23:28 IST

US President George W Bush for the first time publicly pressed China to hold talks with representatives of Tibet's spiritual leader after raising concerns over the bloody turmoil in the Himalayan territory.

Bush said after talks with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the White House that he had told Chinese President Hu Jintao that it was in his country's interest that Beijing "sit down again with representatives of the Dalai Lama." He said that Washington "urged for restraint" from Beijing as it faced more than two weeks of the biggest protests against Chinese rule in Tibet in nearly 20 years.

Rudd, who spoke with Bush by his side, slammed "clear cut" human rights abuses in Tibet and also pressed the Chinese government to engage the Dalai Lama or his representatives in an "informal set of discussions."

"It's absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet. That's clear cut. We need to be up front and absolutely straight about what's going on. Shouldn't shilly-shally about it," said the Australian premier, making his maiden trip abroad since sweeping to power in a November election landslide.

Beijing says rioters killed 18 innocent civilians and two police officers so far during the Tibetan protests.

But exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at between 135 and 140, with another 1,000 people injured and many detained.

The protests began in Lhasa on March 10 to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, an event that saw the Dalai Lama - who on Friday called again for talks with Beijing - to flee to India where he has since lived in exile.

Breaking his silence over the Tibetan crisis, Bush two days ago telephoned Hu and "pushed very hard" on the need for restraint in the violence as well as the need for consultation with representatives of the Dalai Lama, White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had said.
Talks between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama's envoys were suspended since the summer of last year.

Bush also "raised his concerns about the situation in Tibet" and called for "access for journalists and diplomats" in the mountainous territory, the White House had said.

The US leader however plans to attend the Beijing Olympics in August despite calls to world leaders to boycott the games opening ceremony.

China on Friday allowed the first foreign diplomats to visit Tibet following the deadly riots. Diplomats from 15 embassies, including those of the United States, Britain, France and Japan, are currently in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on a hastily arranged tour.

Hu said a dialogue could be held with the Dalai Lama if he stopped pushing for Tibetan independence, but the spiritual leader had emphasized repeatedly that he wanted only "meaningful autonomy" for his homeland. Rudd, who has pushed for closer relations with China under a foreign policy that differed from his predecessor John Howard, said the Tibet issue was "difficult" and "complex."

He said he would raise the issue with Hu when makes a visit to Beijing as part of his 17-day trip that began in Washington on Thursday.