The president of the European Parliament has said that European countries should consider a boycott of the Olympics in Beijing if the Chinese government continues to take a hardline attitude to unrest in Tibet.

Hans-Gert Poettering joined a growing list of western politicians calling on China to open talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, whom Chinese officials blame for inciting a wave of protests and riots over the last two weeks.

“If there continue to be no signals of compromise, I see boycott measures as justified,” Mr Poettering told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper ahead of a debate this week about Tibet at the European parliament.

The idea of European politicians boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympics was mentioned last week by French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, although he later backed away from the idea.

His comments follow strong criticism of the Chinese government by US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said on Friday during a meeting with the Dalai Lama that events in Tibet were “a challenge to the conscience of the world”.

Taiwan’s President-elect Ma Ying-jeou said on Sunday after his landslide election victory that the Dalai Lama would be welcome to visit the island and repeated comments that Taiwanese athletes might not participate in the Olympics if the situation in Tibet worsens.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Zen, the highest ranking Chinese cleric in the Roman Catholic Church, called on China to avoid acts of violence that might spoil its hosting of the Olympics.

Attempts to link unrest in Tibet to the Olympics is likely to enrage the Chinese government, which had hoped the games would be a showcase for the country’s economic progress rather than a lightening rod for criticisms of its political system.

The Chinese authorities intensified their criticisms of the Dalai Lama over the weekend, accusing him not only of trying to undermine the Olympics but also of supporting separatist groups in the heavily-Muslim Xinjiang province in western China.

An editorial in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said China would “resolutely crush” anti-Beijing forces in Tibet, while another official website accused the Tibetan cleric and his supporters of being “an outright terrorist organisation”.

The Chinese government has also accused the western media of misrepresenting events in Tibet and underplaying the violence of the rioters in Lhasa on March 14.

A front page story in the China Daily, the state run English language paper, listed what it claimed were a series of “biased and sometimes dishonest reports” in the western media in recent days. Over the weekend, state TV showed new graphic footage of violence against Han Chinese residents of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, including reports that about five people were burnt to death.

The official Xinhua news agency called Ms Pelosi “a muckraker of her own hypocrisy” who had “turned a blind eye to merciless rioters”. The government also said on Sunday that around 100 foreign nations had expressed support for the way it had handled the unrest in Tibet.

Although the government appears to have won broad support among urban Chinese for its tough response to the unrest in Tibetan regions, a group of 29 Chinese dissidents released an open letter on Sunday calling for talks with the Dalai Lama. The letter criticised the “one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media” and “Cultural Revolution-like language” of many government statements and called for a United Nations investigation of the events in Tibet.

Western media have been prevented from traveling to Tibet or many of the other Tibetan regions where protests have taken place, making it impossible the confirm conflicting reports about how many people have died in the unrest.

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