March 26, 2008 / 5:23 PM / 9 years ago

EU parliament offers platform to Dalai Lama


(adds exiled Tibetan official, EU commissioner)

By Darren Ennis

BRUSSELS, March 26 (Reuters) - The head of the European Parliament invited the Dalai Lama on Wednesday to address the EU legislature on events in Tibet and questioned whether European leaders should attend the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games.

Opening an emergency debate on events in Tibet, Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said to applause: "I put it to this house to join with me in saying that the Dalai Lama is welcome in this house whenever he wants to come."

He urged the Chinese authorities to seek a solution to the unrest through dialogue with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, respecting China’s territorial integrity.

"I genuinely say that all politicians must ask themselves whether they can attend the opening ceremony if China fails to take part in dialogue," Poettering said, adding he expected the Dalai Lama to attend the EU assembly in December.

He read out a message from the Dalai Lama, accused by China of inciting pro-independence protests and violence, thanking the European Parliament "for this gesture of sympathy and support at a time of great difficulty for the people of Tibet".

The EU’s Slovenian presidency and the European Commission rejected calls to shun the Beijing Games.

Slovenian Secretary of State for European Affairs Janez Lenarcic told the house: "The Presidency believes that a boycott of the Olympics in the year of intercultural dialogue would not be the right response to open political issues. It might also mean a loss of an opportunity to promote human rights."

He and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner urged China to exercise restraint in Tibet, release prisoners arrested during the protests, respect human rights and allow journalists to report in the province freely.



BOYCOTT CALLS

China says the Tibetan protests have led to 19 deaths. The Tibetan government in exile says more than 140 people have died.

On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to rule out boycotting the opening ceremony of the games.

Several EU lawmakers called for a boycott of the Olympics or at least of the opening ceremony.

Several Greens, liberals and leftists brandished Tibetan flags in the chamber and some wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs.

Greens floor leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leader of leftist student protests in France in May 1968, compared the Beijing Games with the 1936 Berlin Olympics staged by Nazi Germany.

"The EU must altogether refuse to attend the opening ceremony, because it is a political act," he told the house.

British Conservative Edward McMillan-Scott accused China of committing genocide in Tibet and said that for politicians of principle, it was no long a question of "whether a boycott of the Olympics but what sort of boycott".

"The Olympic flame may have been lit last weekend, but the Olympic spirit was killed in the streets of Tibet. It was killed by the most repressive regime on earth," he declared.

The speaker of the Himalayan region’s parliament in exile said earlier in Brussels that the Olympics should go ahead despite China’s clampdown on protestors in Tibet.

"But we must use the Olympics to force China to conform with international rules," Karma Chophel told a news conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Tibet’s parliament in exile is based in Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama heads a government in exile established after a failed uprising against communist rule in 1959.

Chophel -- the elected leader of the Tibetan parliament -- is a close ally of the Dalai Lama, who has also previously backed China’s hosting of the games.

"We believe the killings could be 10 times more than confirmed killings. About 400 people have been arrested and over 1000 injured, but this is only rough information.," Chophel said. (writing by Paul Taylor, editing by Sami Aboudi)



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