France urges Tibet talks after torch chaos
Reuters[Tuesday, April 08, 2008 20:08]
By Elizabeth Pineau

CAHORS, France, April 8: Chinese authorities must talk to Tibetan dissidents if they want the Beijing Olympics to be a success, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday, suggesting he might boycott the games if there was no dialogue.

Sarkozy said the pro-Tibetan protests that repeatedly disrupted the Olympic torch relay in London and Paris this week underlined the need for action by Beijing.

"It was sad to see the flame and the athletes booed and I can understand that the Chinese have a problem," Sarkozy told reporters during a visit to southwest France.

"For the Olympics to go ahead in a peaceful fashion, dialogue needs to resume," he said, adding that he had written to Chinese President Hu Jintao "calling for the resumption of dialogue between China and Tibet to find a political solution".

Many western countries have urged Beijing to hold talks with Tibetan Buddhism's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, following unrest against Chinese rule in Tibet. China has dismissed the idea and accused him of orchestrating violence.

The Dalai Lama denies the charge and accuses Chinese security forces of responsibility for most of the bloodshed. He has said he wants talks with China to negotiate autonomy, not full independence, for his homeland.

Sarkozy suggested that he and other French politicians might not attend the opening ceremony of the games if China refused to talk to the dissidents.

"I will decide on our participation depending on the resumption of dialogue. Moreover, at that time I will be the president of the European Union," he said. France assumes the six-month rotating EU presidency in July.

Sarkozy previously said he would not set conditions to his attending the games and was keeping his options open.

In Brussels, a senior European Union official said Brussels would bring up the issue of Tibet at EU-China talks in Beijing scheduled for April 24 and 26.

"I think everyone in Europe is conscious of the need for China to adopt a responsive and responsible approach to Tibet, not just in the context of the Olympics, but more widely," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told Reuters.

France's leftist opposition parties have urged Paris to take a hardline stance towards Beijing on the Tibet issue, while Sarkozy's ministers have sent mixed signals.

The chaos surrounding the Paris leg of the torch procession on Monday embarrassed the French government, with Chinese officials appearing to dictate the arrangements for the relay and the French police proving incapable of keeping the peace.

"I have to say that this has complicated matters," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday.

"But honestly (the relay) is not the problem ... The problem is, why is there no dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities? Is it impossible?"

Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris and William Schomberg in Brussels; writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Andrew Roche