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Sarkozy welcomes Chinese offer of talks with Dalai Lama envoy as 'major' step
AP[Friday, April 25, 2008 19:02]
Paris, April 25 - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday welcomed China's offer to meet with a representative of the Dalai Lama as a major step forward and a reason for "real hope."

Sarkozy has threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if the situation around Tibet does not improve, and has been urging Chinese authorities to resume dialogue with Tibetan leaders after a violent crackdown on protesters in Tibet earlier this year.

The French president "welcomed the announcement by the Chinese authorities of a renewal of dialogue in the coming days with representatives of the Dalai Lama, which he had called for since the tragic events suffered in Tibet in mid-March," Sarkozy's office said in a statement.

"This is a major step. This renewed dialogue is the bearer of real hopes," it said.

The statement did not mention whether Sarkozy was still considering a boycott.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday that government officials would meet with the Dalai Lama's private representative in the coming days. China has faced repeated international calls to open a dialogue with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The Paris City Council angered China by bestowing the title of "honorary citizen" this week on the Dalai Lama.

France will hold the rotating European Union presidency during the Olympics, and Sarkozy said Thursday that he would push for an EU-wide agreement on whether to boycott the opening ceremony.

Sarkozy's boycott idea fed a rash of protests at French-owned supermarkets throughout China last weekend, prompted primarily by pro-Tibet demonstrations during the Olympic torch relay through Paris.

Sarkozy has sought to soothe the tensions, sending a letter to a disabled Chinese athlete attacked during the April 7 torch relay, and sending senior officials to China this week.

In a televised interview Thursday, Sarkozy said he was "shocked by what happened in Tibet" but insisted China should not be marginalized from the international scene. As an economic giant and a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, China is owed respect, he said.
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