WASHINGTON — US President George W. Bush on Monday paid tribute to "the courage of the Dalai Lama and the Buddhists in Tibet," less than one month before heading to China for the Beijing Olympics opening gala.
Bush also reported that he told Chinese President Hu Jintao when they met last week in Japan: "So long as there are those who want to fight for their liberty, the United States stands with them."
The US president, who has drawn fire for his decision to attend the August 8 opening ceremony for the Games, was speaking at a White House ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of a US law aimed at promoting global religious freedom.
"We remember those seeking religious freedom in China, and we honor those who press for their liberties, people like the Uighur Muslims," said Bush.
"I also had the honor of meeting those who attend underground churches in China. And we also honor the courage of the Dalai Lama and the Buddhists in Tibet," he said.
Bush cited "some hopeful progress during the last couple of years" in places like Turkmenistan and Vietnam but underlined that it was important to "remember the many people who have yet to secure this precious liberty."
He cited Iran, "where the regime's anti-Semitism has provoked global outrage," Eritrea, Sudanese attacks on Christians, and North Korean punishment of "those caught practicing faiths other than the state ideology."
He also cited "brutal raids" by Myanmar authorities on Buddhist monks, past repression of religious minorities in Uzbekistan, and expressed hope that promised Saudi reforms "can bring real change."
"Today, we urge the leaders of all these countries to immediately end their abuses of religious freedom. We urge these leaders to respect the rights of those who seek only to worship their god as they see fit," said Bush.