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Dalai Lama backs Olympics bid if boosts rights

The Dalai Lama has said that China needs to clean up its act to justify being awarded the 2008 Olympic Games  

SALT LAKE CITY, United States -- The Dalai Lama has said he will support China's bid for the 2008 Olympics if it promotes human rights in the country.

The Dalai Lama, visiting the city that will host the Winter Games in February, said Thursday that China should only be allowed to stage the 2008 Olympics if the award was linked to such improvements.

Speaking on the second leg of a six-city speaking tour of the U.S., the Dalai Lama urged International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to heed the opinions of human rights leaders in choosing their 2008 city.

"I would like to know their opinion. If they feel this event taking place in China would help to change, then I would support it," the Dalai Lama told reporters, adding that China wanted to host the Olympics for "political reasons."

The religious leader, who fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, is seeking support for Tibetan autonomy and respect for human rights by Beijing.

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U.S. opposition

A tiny group of Tibetan supporters stood outside an IOC press meeting in Salt Lake City to protest China's bid for the 2008 Olympics.

China, which lost the bid for the 2000 Olympics to Australia by a narrow margin, has mounted a vigorous campaign for the 2008 event.

It is keen to show the advances it has made and bristles at the possibility of losing the Olympics because of criticism over its human rights record.

The Dalai Lama's visit comes at a difficult time in U.S.-China relations, following the recent U.S. spy plane incident and the announcement of a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.

The U.S. has, through a congressional committee resolution, opposed Beijing's bid for the Games because of its record on human rights.

Beijing responded by saying it would not bow to international pressure by releasing political prisoners to boost its Olympic bid.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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International Olympic Committee

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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