US House Speaker Backs Dalai Lama

DHARMSALA, India (AP) -- Walking arm-in-arm with the Dalai Lama, the U.S. House speaker lent her support Friday to the Tibetan cause, calling China's crackdown in Tibet "a challenge to the conscience of the world."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the first major foreign official to meet with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader since protests against Chinese rule broke out in Tibet, and she got a warm welcome in his hilltop headquarters in northern India.

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world," Pelosi told thousands of cheering Tibetans, including monks and schoolchildren.

Pelosi, a Democrat from California, called for an international investigation into the violence in Tibet and dismissed China's claim that the Dalai Lama was behind the unrest as making "no sense."

The Dalai Lama, who has based his exile community in Dharmsala for nearly 50 years, has urged Tibetans to refrain from violence in their protests. He also expressed dismay over assaults on Han Chinese living in Tibet, while also strongly criticizing China's tough clampdown.

After protests turned violent on March 14 in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, the Beijing government sent security forces to blanket Tibetan areas of western China and crush any unrest.

"Nothing surprises me about the use of violence on the part of the Chinese government," said Pelosi, who had scheduled a visit by her congressional delegation long before the protests broke out.

"I pray for success of the speaker of such a great nation, considered a champion of freedom, democracy and liberty," said the Dalai Lama, who draped a gold scarf around Pelosi's neck.

"Perhaps it's our karma, our fate, to be with you at such a sad time," Pelosi said.

After meeting with the Tibetan leader, Pelosi said China's government should open the restive Himalayan region to foreign journalists and independent monitors.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the trip, also expressed his support for Tibetans.

"In the U.S. Congress, there is no division between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of protecting Tibetan culture and eliminating repression against Tibetans around the world," he said.

Hundreds of people lined the roads to the Dalai Lama's compound, some with signs saying "Thank You for Your Support" and "Long Live America-Tibet Friendship." About 2,000 more people waited in the temple's main courtyard, many waving Indian, U.S. and Tibetan flags.

Kalsing Phuntsok, 37, a teacher who was in the crowd, called Pelosi "a very good friend of Tibet."

"America has a big role to play, a very big role," he said.

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