Although many still plan to attend the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the civil unrest that erupted March 14 in the Tibetan region of China has prompted some to call for a boycott of the opening ceremonies.

Last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy would not rule out a boycott, and other European leaders said they would opt out entirely, news agencies reported.

While U.S. officials have not said they plan to boycott the Games, the Bush administration has been putting pressure on China regarding the unrest, which began on the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising in Lhasa, China.

On March 15, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement saying, "We urge China to respect the fundamental and universally recognized right of all of its citizens to peacefully express their political and religious views, and we call on China to release monks and others who have been detained solely for the peaceful expression of their views."

Rice also noted that President Bush "has consistently encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama ... so that long-standing issues with regard to Tibet may be resolved."

On March 18, the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader of Tibet, said in a statement, "Since the Chinese government has accused me of orchestrating these protests in Tibet, I call for a thorough investigation. ... Whether it was intended or not, I believe that a form of cultural genocide has taken place in Tibet, where the Tibetan identity has been under constant attack."

That statement came little more than one week after the Dalai Lama put pressure on China to use the Olympic Games as an opportunity to showcase its progress.

"I have, from the very beginning, supported the idea that China should be granted the opportunity to host the Olympic Games," he said just prior to the outbreak in violence. "Since such international sporting events, and especially the Olympics, uphold the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, equality and friendship, China should prove herself a good host by providing these freedoms."

Reports vary as to the number of deaths related to the violence. The Chinese government said 22 people had died, while Tibetan officials said the violence and the harsh crackdown afterward had left nearly 140 people dead, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said the Olympic torch should not go through Tibet unless the Chinese government agrees to an independent investigation. The organization questioned Olympic sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo, about associating "themselves with a highly repressive situation where abuses are very likely."

To contact reporter Michelle Baran, send e-mail to [email protected].

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