Hans-Gert Poettering

BERLIN — The president of the European Parliament said European countries should not rule out threatening China with an Olympic boycott if violence continues in Tibet.

"Beijing must decide itself, it should immediately negotiate with the Dalai Lama," Hans-Gert Poettering said in Saturday editions of Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "If there continue to be no signals of compromise, I see boycott measures as justified."

Protests started March 10 in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule. Events turned violent four days later, touching off demonstrations among Tibetans in three neighboring provinces.

Beijing responded by blanketing Tibetan areas with troops and publishing a "Most Wanted" list of 21 protesters, appealing to people to turn them in.

Beijing's official death toll from the rioting is 22, but the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile has said 99 Tibetans have been killed.

Poettering's comments came after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner last week backtracked from his own remarks that suggested he was open to a mini-boycott of the Beijing Olympics by VIPs at the opening ceremony, saying the proposal was "unrealistic."

Poettering told Bild that "we should not rule out a boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing."

The European Union said Thursday that a boycott would be counterproductive to efforts to improve human rights in China.

"A boycott could signify actually losing an opportunity to promote human rights and could, at the same time, cause considerable harm to the population of China as a whole," said a statement from Slovenia, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Poettering said the European Parliament would be talking over the issue midweek and said he was pushing for European countries to "speak with one voice on the defense of human rights in Tibet."

"China, for Europe, is an important partner — in climate protection, for example," Poettering told Bild. "Dialogue and cooperation are in the interests of both sides, but the Tibetan people should not be allowed to be made victims for it."

In other comments to Bild, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier did not rule out a boycott of the opening ceremonies by Western politicians.

"Only Beijing can decide this question," he said.

He added he was going to be in touch with his Chinese counterparts to talk about the situation in Tibet this weekend, and he was pushing for Beijing to allow foreign observers.