Congressional leader calls for international condemnation of China

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A leading US politician walked hand in hand with the Dalai Lama and called on the international community to condemn China for its crackdown in Tibet.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said she was not surprised by China's violent actions but warned that the "world is watching".

Ms Pelosi, the first senior foreign politician to meet the Dalai Lama since the violence erupted in Tibet two weeks ago, claimed the crisis in the region was "a challenge to the conscience of the world". She added: "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."

Other than warm words, Ms Pelosi and her Congressional delegation had little practical help to offer the Tibetan exile community that has been reeling in the aftermath on the violence that has left an unknown number of people dead.

But her visit continues to give the movement publicity and Ms Pelosi and her colleagues were afforded a rapturous welcome from thousands of Tibetans when they visited the government-in-exile's headquarters in the Indian town of Dharamsala.

"Perhaps it's our karma, our fate, to be with you at such a sad time," said Ms Pelosi. "It is our karma we know, to help the people of Tibet."

The visit by Ms Pelosi came two weeks after riots broke out in Lhasa and elsewhere in protest against Chinese rule. Despite calls for restraint from the international community, China has responded with a violent crackdown involving the dispatch of thousands of troops. It said 16 people have been killed but the exile community says the real figure is approaching 100. An untold number of people have also been injured.

Information released by the government-in-exile suggested that thousands of Chinese troops have converged in Tibetan areas of western China. Its spokesman Thubten Samphel said it had information which suggested a further 19 Tibetans had died in China's Gansu province in recent days, taking the death toll in the region to 99.

The Chinese versions of the US-based websites MSN and Yahoo! have published a list of names and photographs of 24 Tibetans accused by the Chinese authorities of involvement in protests in Lhasa. The grainy pictures are apparently taken from video footage shot during the unrest. "It beggars belief that Yahoo! is acting as China's right-hand man in its brutal crackdown on Tibetan protesters," said Matt Whitticase, from the Free Tibet Campaign. "Yahoo! knows very well that these protesters will have no access to legal representation and that either execution or long prison sentences and torture awaits any protester arrested in Lhasa."

China has repeatedly blamed the Dalai Lama for orchestrating the violence and has denounced him. At the same time, China said it was prepared to negotiate with the Tibetan spiritual leader if certain conditions were met. Earlier this week, the Dalai Lama said he too was prepared to meet the Chinese leadership, if there was clear evidence it wanted to enter dialogue to achieve a mutually acceptable solution to Tibet.

Ms Pelosi called for an international investigation into the circumstances surrounding the protests and violence in Tibet.