April 13, 2008 / 10:23 PM / 12 years ago

Chinese envoy walks out on Irish minister's speech

(Adds Chinese ambassador comments, paragraphs 8-9)

By Paul Hoskins

DUBLIN, April 13 (Reuters) - Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern denied reports of a diplomatic row on Sunday after China’s ambassador walked out on a speech in which Environment Minister John Gormley accused China of human rights abuses in Tibet.

Television footage showed China’s envoy to Ireland, Liu Biwei, conferring with an aide before walking out during a speech on Saturday night in which Gormley said Tibet had been "exploited and suppressed and suffered for too long".

"We have always enjoyed good relations with the Chinese people," said Gormley who leads the Green Party, the junior partner in Ireland’s Fianna Fail-led coalition government.

"But we condemn this abuse of human rights and we call on the Chinese government to enter dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Gormley said at a Green Party convention.

Ahern said Gormley’s call for talks between Chinese officials and Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader was in line with Irish government policy.

"Obviously we condemn what’s going on there and there has to be restraint," Ahern told public broadcaster RTE. "The Chinese have to allow independent monitors and media people in."

Gormley told RTE on Sunday the Chinese ambassador had been informed of his comments before the speech, though Ahern said offence may have been caused by a "slip of the tongue" in which the environment minister referred to Tibet as a country.

Liu could not be reached for comment, but his private secretary said he would not have attended the convention had he known what Gormley planned to say and pointed to comments by the ambassador reported by RTE.

"The Chinese people love peace and we want to have good relations with the Irish people," Liu said, describing Gormley’s comments on Tibet as totally wrong. "I hope our relations, including our economic relations, can go on."

China carried out a security crackdown in Tibet last month in response to protests against Chinese rule on the anniversary of a failed uprising, followed by riots in the region’s capital Lhasa. (Editing by Tim Pearce)

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