Page last updated at 01:23 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Bush calls Hu to urge Tibet talks

Foreign journalists arrive at Lhasa airport, 26 March 2008
Foreign journalists were allowed to visit Lhasa on Wednesday

US President George W Bush has urged China to begin dialogue with Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Mr Bush called his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao to raise his concerns about the unrest and to urge him to ease access for journalists and diplomats.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of being behind the demonstrations - the biggest against China for 20 years, which have left several people dead.

The Dalai Lama has criticised violent protests and urged dialogue with China.

The anti-China protests began on 10 March and developed into violent rioting in Lhasa.

China says 19 people have been killed by rioters incited by Tibetan separatists.

The Tibetan government-in-exile says about 140 people have been killed in a crackdown on protesters by Chinese security forces.

Delayed response

"The president raised his concerns about the situation in Tibet and encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama's representatives," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

She said Mr Bush had also called on China "to allow access for journalists and diplomats".

Chinese soldiers disembark from a truck in Lhasa on 21 March 2008
China has increased its security presence in Lhasa since the unrest

Foreign journalists have largely been blocked from covering the unrest, though China allowed a group of foreign reporters into the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Wednesday for the first time since the violence began.

The government said the group, which does not include the BBC, would be able to interview "victims of criminal acts".

The reporters were taken to Potala Square, below the traditional seat of Tibetan rulers, Potala Palace - which reopened Wednesday for the first time since 14 March, the Associated Press news agency said.

They also visited a part of the town where shops had been burned during the rioting.

The BBC's Jack Izzard in Washington says the delay in Mr Bush's response is a measure of how delicate relations are between the US and China - two countries whose huge economies are deeply interlinked.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also called for dialogue over Tibet - adding he had not ruled out boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games being held in China in August.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has also described international concern about the violence in Tibet as justified and proper, but he has spoken out against an Olympic boycott.

The White House has said that Mr Bush will attend the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

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