Bush, China's President Discuss Tibet

President Bush called Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing crackdown in Tibet. Meanwhile, a group of Western journalists has been allowed into the region, including Callum Macleod of USA Today, who says there's a police presence in the Tibetan capital Llasa, but not a complete lockdown.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, President Bush called the president of China, Hu Jintao, to talk about Tibet. According to the White House, the president used the occasion to raise his concerns about the ongoing crackdown in Tibet.

Last week, Beijing used force to end protests against Chinese control of the Tibetan Autonomous Region or TAR. Also today, the head of the European Parliament invited the Dalai Lama to talk to the EU about China's response to the Tibetan unrest.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the Tibet situation heated up, a group of Western journalists has been allowed into the region. Among the reporters who arrived there today was Calum Macleod of USA Today. He says there's a police presence in the city, but there's not a complete lockdown.

Mr. CALUM MACLEOD (Journalist, USA Today): People can go about their business, but they are certainly not going about their business in a normal way. In some streets, they're almost deserted, many, many shops, restaurants. Particularly, the previously quite vibrant nightclub scene are very much down.

And in the Tibetan quarter, around the back or the sacred circuits and around the Jokhang Temple, there's a very strong paramilitary police presence there. Where, if you head down one of the old lanes, there's an (unintelligible) of Tibetan housing around this traditional Tibetan housing, there are paramilitary police checking residents and visitors and checking their ID. If they have them then they're allowed to proceed, as I was allowed to proceed.

And then, from - in the evening, the many, many roads have roadblocks where cars are stopped, and particularly taxi drivers. And if they are carrying Tibetans in their taxi cabs then they will also be subjected to a body search for weapons.

SIEGEL: The Chinese said that there had been widespread looting of stores owned by Han Chinese, the ethnic Chinese. Can you - is that evident to you when you talk about the shops that were shut down, or no?

Mr. MACLEOD: What's clear is that there are many burned and blackened buildings where shops have been thoroughly gutted by fire. The organizers of this trip showed an hour-long documentary taken from police surveillance cameras, some of which has been aired on Chinese television before, and part of which has stirred up anger throughout China towards the Tibetans.

And it wasn't clear that there was looting going on from those tapes. What was clear is that many shops were ransacked and the shops were just burned and then, of course, there were victims of those fires.

SIEGEL: Have the Chinese said how many people they have detained or where those people are being detained?

Mr. MACLEOD: The figures varying from 600 to 1,000 in terms of people who have surrendered than been detained. We hope to learn more tomorrow when we will be meeting with the city and TAR officials. So, we haven't been given access to people with that kind of information yet, but we will be pressing for that tomorrow.

SIEGEL: Before I let you go, I just want you to - as you've said, the terms of this visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region that you're on, you are escorted throughout, are you allowed to walk around on your own and at least try to engage some people in conversation, or is there always an official minder around you in whatever you're doing?

Mr. MACLEOD: We were warned as the trip began that we should only go out with minders for our own safety, as well as our own health at this high altitude. Thankfully that hasn't been the case. I personally left the hotel (unintelligible) after arrival. I don't believe I was followed on that particular visit so I was able to get out, announcing the official agenda when a few - a group of us tried that later. This evening, we were certainly followed, or at least three cars, but none of those intervened in our movements around town. So, well, you know, it's certainly a very monitored trip. It's not perhaps as tightly controlled as some may have feared.

SIEGEL: And as you say, you've been there before. You've been to Lhasa under better circumstances before, and this is notably different?

Mr. MACLEOD: Yeah, very much so. Just (unintelligible) from the airport, we've passed at least three police roadblocks just coming into town. And the fact that the Tibetans who have known me, are very engaging people, quickly to smile and to, you know, have an conversation particularly with people who've come from far away. And that's not the case and they're still - a rather nervous city tonight.

SIEGEL: Calum MacLeod of USA Today. Thank you very much for talking with us from Lhasa.

Mr. MACLEOD: You're welcome.

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