EU parliament backs Dalai Lama, opposes Olympic boycott

European Parliament lawmakers on Wednesday threw their weight behind exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, urging China to begin constructive talks on the issue of Tibetan autonomy. ( dpa )

But they stopped short of calling for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, to be held in Beijing in August, arguing that this would not be an effective response.

"We declare our solidarity with the Dalai Lama, a figure who has stood for peace, reconciliation and balance. We cannot allow a situation in which the Dalai Lama is mentioned in the same breath as terrorists," the president of the parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, said.

"We cannot allow the demonization of the Dalai Lama," he added to applause from members of the parliament (MEPs).

Earlier on Wednesday, MEPs from the Green group urged European leaders to consider boycotting the Olympic Games' opening ceremony as a sign of their concern at the ongoing violence in Tibet.

"We must be prepared to openly consider a boycott because the conditions of freedom and democracy required to organise such events go beyond the current case of China and its human rights situation," Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Monica Frassoni, co-presidents of the group, said in a statement.

But most MEPs who spoke in the debate stressed that a boycott would not be the right response to the crisis.

"A boycott of the Olympics would be shooting yourself in the foot (and) would do nothing to help the situation in Tibet," Martin Schulz, leader of the parliament's socialist group, said.

That stance was echoed by Slovenia's Minister for European Affairs, Janez Lenarcic, who spoke on behalf of the council of EU member states, as Slovenia currently chairs the council.

"A boycott in the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue would not be the right response. It would be a lost opportunity to promote human rights," he said.

So far, of the EU's leaders only French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested a possible boycott, either of the August 8 opening ceremony or of the entire games.

Also on Wednesday, the parliament's foreign-affairs committee heard from the speaker of Tibet's parliament in exile, Karma Chopel, who urged the EU to "awaken the conscience of the international community."

In an extraordinary parliamentary session called in response to the state crackdown on pro-independence demonstrations in Tibet, EU officials were unanimous in their condemnation of the violence.

"One thing is clear: the number of those killed seems to run into the hundreds. Violence is never acceptable," EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

Many MEPs called on the Chinese authorities to lift a media blackout on Tibet and give foreign observers access to the region, and to those demonstrators who were arrested in the crackdown.

"We demand that the Chinese authorities put an end to violence and intimidation, we demand that a peaceful dialogue be launched. We consider the Dalai Lama a friend whose moral authority is unquestionable," Jozsef Szayer of the conservative EPP group - the largest in parliament - said.

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