Foreign diplomats want unfettered access in Tibet


Foreign diplomats demanded unfettered access in Lhasa Saturday after authorities allowed them to visit the riot-torn city amid debate in Europe on a possible boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.

Two weeks after protests in the Himalayan region turned deadly, diplomats from 15 embassies, including those of the United States, Britain, France and Japan, arrived in the Tibetan capital for a hastily arranged one-day tour.

"This visit is a good first step, but does not go far enough to meet the request for unfettered access," one Western diplomat in Beijing told AFP after being briefed on the trip.

"Obviously this has been a highly-managed visit."

Upon arrival to Lhasa Friday evening, the diplomats met with the chairman of Tibet's government Qiangba Puncog, visited wounded paramilitary police in hospital and chatted with ordinary Tibetans, he said.

On Saturday morning, the diplomats visited the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most sacred shrines, where monks converged on a tightly government-managed foreign media tour Wednesday and denounced China's rule of Tibet, he added.

"The chairman of Tibet reassured them (diplomats) that the monks would not be punished" for their Wednesday protest, the diplomat said.

China announced the trip late Thursday night -- allowing the diplomats only hours to prepare for the long flight to Lhasa -- as an international uproar over Beijing's crackdown on the Himalayan region raged.

At the start of two days of talks in Slovenia on Friday, EU foreign ministers were split on the idea of boycotting the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony over Tibet, but keen for China to open talks with the Dalai Lama.

"You can be sure that information on the trip is being passed to the foreign ministers meeting," one Beijing-based diplomat here said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she opposed boycotting the Beijing Olympics over China's actions in Tibet in order to avoid insulting the Chinese people.

In an interview in Friday's Washington Times, Rice also suggested an Olympics boycott would be ineffective, adding that the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was "feckless."

"We all knew that when the Olympics was awarded to Beijing, that there were any number of issues that needed to be dealt with because of the nature of the regime in Beijing," Rice said in remarks distributed by the State Department.

President George W. Bush's administration has steadfastly opposed a boycott, instead urging China to act with restraint against protesters in Tibet and to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

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

Unrest erupted into widespread rioting in Lhasa on March 14, and spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.

Beijing says rioters killed 18 innocent civilians and two police officers during the unrest in Tibet.

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.

As China's clampdown escalated, so too has the response of the outside world.

Following a meeting with Bush in Washington, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also called on Beijing to enter talks with the Dalai Lama, while hitting out at China's rights abuses in Tibet.

"It's absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet. That's clear cut," Rudd said.

"We need to be up front and absolutely straight about what's going on. Shouldn't shilly-shally about it."

In Athens, Greek authorities prevented anti-China demonstrations over the Tibet crackdown ahead of Saturday's symbolic handover of the Olympic flame to the Beijing Games' organisers.

Echoing an increasingly tense week as the Olympic torch travelled around Greece ahead of the handover, police Friday stopped 20 demonstrators putting up a banner in Volos, arresting one person.

About 10 Danish activists were also blocked by police around 70 kilometres (45 miles) outside Larissa, again in central Greece. (AFP)