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Page last updated at 08:12 GMT, Saturday, 12 April 2008 09:12 UK

China defends Tibetan crackdown

Chinese President Hu Jintao (r) with Australian PM Kevin Rudd
Mr Hu spoke during a visit by Australian PM Kevin Rudd

Chinese President Hu Jintao has defended China's crackdown in Tibet and said it was entirely an internal issue about defending China's unity.

Mr Hu said last month's crackdown was a result of "conflict" with supporters of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The comments follow protests against the Olympic torch relay by activists critical of China's crackdown.

The latest relay leg, in Buenos Aires, passed off without interruption.

"Our conflict with the Dalai clique is not an ethnic problem, not a religious problem, nor a human rights problem," Mr Hu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. "It is a problem either to safeguard national unification or to split the motherland," Mr Hu told visiting Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

 Zhang Hao from China carries the Olympic flame in Buenos Aires 11 April
The torch procession was held amid tight security

It was the first time Mr Hu has commented on last month's unrest in Tibet, when Tibetan exile groups say Chinese security forces killed dozens of protesters.

Beijing says about 19 people were killed in rioting.

Mr Hu repeated China's position that it was ready to meet the Dalai Lama, but only if he met certain pre-conditions, such as desisting from trying to "split the motherland", "incite violence" and "ruin the Beijing Olympics".

The Dalai Lama has denied accusations by Chinese officials that he orchestrated last month's violent protests in Tibet and Tibetan areas of China to discredit the country before the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

Speaking on US television during a visit to Seattle, the Dalai Lama reiterated his opposition to a boycott of the Olympics, but said China's record on human rights and freedom was "poor".

He said his message to China was: "We are not against you. And I'm not seeking separation."

Minor scuffles

On Friday, Argentine athletes carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Buenos Aires amid high security after protesters in London and Paris tried to obstruct the flame's progress, grab it or even put it out.

Chinese supporters cheer the Olympic torch in Buenos Aires

Both anti-China protesters and supporters of the Beijing Games turned out, but only minor scuffles were reported and the torch was not impeded.

The only apparent attempt to derail the relay were a few water balloons thrown at the torch, easily deflected by guards.

One activist unfurled a giant banner on the torch route reading "Free Tibet".

And members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China, lit their own "human rights torch" and marched along the route the flame was to take.

Police separated the few dozen pro-Tibet demonstrators from a similar-sized group of pro-China supporters, who waved the Chinese flag and sang the national anthem.

'Crisis'

The International Olympic Committee has been forced to consider the future of the torch relay after the protests marred the sporting celebration it had been intended to be.

The head of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, even spoke of a "crisis".

But he said neither the athletes nor the public wanted a boycott of the Olympics and said it was "sad" that the torch relay had been disrupted by protests.

"The torch does not belong to Beijing or China. It is the torch of humanity," he told the BBC.

He also praised "excellent" preparations for the Olympics and said he was "optimistic the Games will be a great success". He said the IOC had no right to tell China how to deal with sovereign issues like Tibet and human rights.

On Thursday Beijing had rebuked him for urging China to respect its "moral engagement" to improve human rights.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Beijing says China had been hoping for an impressive roll call of world leaders at the opening ceremony on 8 August for "the greatest show on earth".

But UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said they will not go, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is undecided and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he may not make it.

US President George W Bush is under pressure from White House hopefuls John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama not to attend.

After Buenos Aires, the torch's next stop is Tanzania.

OLYMPIC TORCH ROUTE
Map
Torch lit in Olympia on 24 March and taken on five-day relay around Greece to Athens
After handover ceremony, taken to Beijing on 31 March to begin a journey of 136,800 km (85,000 miles) around the world
Torch arrives in Macau on 3 May. After three-month relay all around China, it arrives in Beijing for opening ceremony on 8 August





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Jacques Rogge on the IOC's 'ethical values'



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