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EU foreign ministers to debate response to Chinese crackdown in Tibet
AP[Friday, March 28, 2008 17:50]

BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia, March 28: Foreign ministers from the European Union's 27 countries were to debate ideas for an EU response to China's crackdown in Tibet during talks starting Friday, amid calls from some politicians for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony.

French officials said "different aspects" of the Tibet unrest would be discussed during the two days of talks in Slovenia and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner would present some ideas for a common response.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday suggested that a boycott of the opening ceremony was a possibility — the first world leader to raise the prospect of punishing China over its crackdown in Tibet.

This month's protests in Tibet have been the most-sustained challenge to China's rule in the Himalayan region since 1989. The ensuing crackdown by Chinese authorities has focused international attention on China's human rights record in the run-up to the Olympics. The government says at least 22 people have died in the unrest; Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans have been killed.

China has faced growing calls to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, along with suggestions from some politicians that they were considering boycotting the Olympics' opening ceremony to protest China's handling of the situation.

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering invited the Dalai Lama to the EU assembly on Wednesday, while many EU lawmakers asked EU leaders to stay away from the games' opening and closing ceremonies.

Arriving at the foreign ministers' meeting Friday, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the German government would not be represented in Beijing at the ministerial level, but spoke against a full boycott of the games.

He said the world should wait to see "how the Chinese government will handle the situation in the next weeks and months."

"A 'No' to the Olympics ... would help neither the people of China, nor sports," he said.

Last week, some former world leaders and dissidents, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel and former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, questioned whether the Olympics should go ahead at all. But the idea of a full-blown boycott of the games has gained no support from the EU and has even been rejected by the Dalai Lama.
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