March 14, 2008 / 3:07 PM / in 10 years

U.S. tells China to use restraint in Tibet protests

(Adds White House, details, quotes)

By Sue Pleming and Paul Eckert

WASHINGTON, March 14 (Reuters) - The United States told China on Friday to act with restraint when dealing with protesters in Tibet and again asked Beijing to talk to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

U.S. ambassador to China, Clark Randt, used a meeting with senior Chinese officials in Beijing to formally voice U.S. concern over violence in Tibet’s capital Lhasa, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"He took the opportunity, because of what was going on in Lhasa, to urge restraint on the part of the Chinese officials and Chinese security forces and not resort to use of force in dealing with the protesters," McCormack told reporters.

Peaceful street marches by Tibetan Buddhist monks in past days grew into the biggest demonstrations the remote Himalayan region has seen in nearly two decades, with anti-riot police patrolling the streets months before the Beijing Olympics.

U.S.-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported on Friday that at least two people were killed when Chinese police fired on rioting Tibetan protesters in Lhasa.

"We believe Beijing needs to respect Tibetan culture. They they need to respect multi-ethnicity in their society. We regret the tensions between ethnic groups and Beijing," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters. "The president has said consistently that Beijing needs to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama."

RELIGIOUS REPRESSION INCREASED

The U.S. embassy in Beijing issued a message urging Americans to postpone travel to Tibet and if they were already in Lhasa to seek safety in hotels and elsewhere.

"All care must be taken to avoid unnecessary movement within the city until the situation is under control," said McCormack, adding there were no reports of U.S. casualties.

Asked whether human rights issues changed Washington’s view of China hosting the Olympic Games, McCormack said the United States saw the games as a sporting event.

"We believe, and have urged China both in public and in private to use the opportunity to put China’s best face forward to the international community, not only during but in the run-up and after the Olympics," said McCormack.

Human rights groups have urged the United States to increase pressure on China over its human rights record in the run-up to the Olympic Games.

The State Department’s annual report on human rights worldwide, which was released on Tuesday, called China’s 2007 human rights record poor, but the host of this summer’s Olympics escaped being listed among the world’s worst offenders as it had been in previous years.

"The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor, and the level of repression of religious freedom increased," said the Tibet entry in the report.

"Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and house arrest and surveillance of dissidents," it said. (Editing by Alan Elsner)




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