by Peter Harmsen
BEIJING (AFP) - China on Friday allowed the first foreign diplomats to visit Tibet following deadly riots, as European nations appeared split on the idea of boycotting the Beijing Olympics opening.
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 Lhasa for a hastily arranged tour.
"They will carry out on-the-spot investigation of the real facts of the... serious and violent criminal incident," the foreign ministry said.
The United States welcomed the move but President George W. Bush later urged China to hold talks on the situation with representatives of the Himalayan territory's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
He said after meeting Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Washington that he had told China's President Hu Jintao it was in his country's interest "that he sit down again with representatives of the Dalai Lama."
But Rudd was more forthright, calling on Beijing to enter talks and hitting out at its rights abuses in the region.
He added: "It's absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet. That's clear cut. We need to be up front and absolutely straight about what's going on. Shouldn't shilly-shally about it."
The protests began in Lhasa on March 10 to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, 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.
The unrest erupted into widespread rioting in Lhasa on March 14, and spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.
As China's crackdown escalated, so too has the response of the outside world.
But at the start of two days of talks in Slovenia, none of the EU ministers suggested a full-scale boycott of the summer Olympics, despite public pressure for some kind of response to China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters.
"We are concerned over the situation of human rights in China and Tibet. We hope dialogue will start between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan representatives," said Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel.
Slovenia currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, but France will have taken over before August's Olympics begins.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday neither he nor Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to attend the Games opening, but implied this was not linked to Tibet.
Several eastern European leaders have already vowed to stay away, including Czech President Vaclav Klaus, his Estonian counterpart Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in London that Britain, which will host the 2012 Olympics, would not boycott any part of the Games.
Faced with divisions, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would ask EU leaders ahead of the Games whether they wanted to boycott the opening.
"At the time of the Olympics, I will be in the presidency of the European Union so I have to sound out and consult my fellow members to see whether or not we should boycott," Sarkozy said.
Meanwhile, from his Indian exile, the Dalai Lama appealed again to China's leaders Friday to enter into "meaningful dialogue" over the crisis, according to a statement.
"Even at this juncture I have expressed my willingness to the Chinese authorities to work together to bring about peace and stability," he said in a message to his "Chinese brothers and sisters."
"I have appealed to the leadership of the (People's Republic of China) to clearly understand my position and work to resolve these problems. I urge the Chinese leadership to exercise wisdom and to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the Tibetan people."
China has repeatedly rebuffed calls by the Dalai Lama to meet with him and has blamed him for the violence.
Beijing says rioters killed 18 innocent civilians and two police officers.
And early Saturday China's state media reported that the families of the civilians killed would receive 200,000 yuan (28,200 dollars) in compensation from the Tibet Autonomous Region. Xinhua news agency also said those who were injured would be given free health care. There was no mention of compensation for the policemen.
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.
Reports from Tibet indicated no let-up Friday in China's efforts to contain the protests, with authorities keeping a tight lid on potential trouble spots.
All monasteries in Lhasa remained closed, an official at the Lhasa Tourism Administration said.
"None of the monasteries in Lhasa are open... it's hard to say when they will reopen. This issue is beyond our powers," the official, who declined to be named, told AFP by phone.