CHINA was urged to open talks with the Dalai Lama over Tibet yesterday after protests during the lighting of the Olympic torch.
In Washington, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, urged Beijing to open a dialogue with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, saying it was the "only policy that is sustainable in Tibet".
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, offered to act as a go-between. He called for "restraint" after demonstrations centred on the Tibetan capital of Lhasa where over 100 people are thought to have died.
China has angrily denounced the Dalai Lama and his "clique", accusing him of attempting to sabotage the Beijing Summer Olympics after the biggest protests in Lhasa in two decades.
Beijing pledged strict security measures yesterday after Monday night's torch-lighting ceremony in Greece saw two demonstrators run into the field at Ancient Olympia, interrupting a speech by a Chinese official.
Minutes later, a Tibetan woman covered herself in red paint and lay in the road in front of a runner carrying the Olympic torch while other protesters chanted "Free Tibet" and "Shame on China".
A team of mountaineers are tasked with taking the Olympic torch from Tibet up Mount Everest on its four-month journey through China and 20 other countries ahead of the August games.
Chinese Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951 and the Lhasa protests have highlighted accusations that China has harshly restricted Tibet's Buddhist culture while flooding the area with ethnic Chinese settlers.
Washington and European leaders have not raised any threat over their countries' participation in the Olympics.
But the diplomatic pressure was growing yesterday. At a news conference on a visit to India, Ms Rice said the Dalai Lama, with his belief in non-violence and "his unassailable authoritative moral stature," could "play a very favourable role" in seeking a peaceful resolution.Ms Rice also came to the defence of Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat leader of the US Congress, who was berated by Beijing after visiting the Dalai Lama in India.
"To have contact with him, I think, is a good thing, not a bad thing," she said.
In France, Mr Sarkozy issued a statement saying he sent a message to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, expressing sadness over recent "tragic events" in Tibet.
Mr Sarkozy said France was available – as part of a French-Chinese partnership – to facilitate a resumption of talks.
Pierre Moscovici, a leader of the opposition Socialists, attacked Mr Sarkozy at the weekend for a "deafening silence" about Tibet.
A poll published yesterday showed most French people believed Mr Sarkozy should boycott the opening ceremony of the games over the "human rights situation" in China – but still wanted French athletes to take part in the games.