A group of Canadian senators and members of parliament has asked for visas to visit Tibet, ten days after violent protests began there which exiled Tibetans say has left 80 dead at the hands of Chinese police and military.
The 24 legislators—three senators and 21 MPs—include officials from each of the four political parties represented in Canada's parliament. The group is called the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet.
China's communist authorities have sealed off the Tibetan city of Lhasa where the protests began, expelling the few Western journalists who were there and discouraging tourists, while sending in military troops.
There have been reports of gunfire, and photos surfaced this week appearing to show Tibetans in nearby Sichuan Province of China who had been shot dead by police after the protests spread there.
In a letter sent Thursday to Chinese Ambassador Lu Shumin, Senator Consiglio Di Nino called for immediate access to the region for the "purposes of monitoring events in Lhasa and other communities."
"The recent show of force, loss of life, and detention of peaceful protesters has been shocking," Mr. Di Nino wrote on behalf of the legislators. "The expulsion of journalists from the region who could ensure impartial reporting is also deeply troubling."
The legislators are seeking 60-day visas and asked for a response by March 27.
In a statement to media, Mr. Di Nino expressed doubt in the Chinese regime's version of events in Tibet.
"If authorities in Tibet are abiding by international standards they should have nothing to hide, and we and other international observers should be welcomed in," he said.
"The fear is that hundreds if not thousands of Tibetans are being rounded up beyond the prying eyes of the world and may face lengthy imprisonment and torture as acts of retribution."
In an interview Wednesday evening on Canada's national radio network, CBC, Chinese ambassador Lu Shumin insisted there was nothing to hide. He said foreigners were allowed to remain in Lhasa. When pressed on reports that journalists had been expelled, he was unable to comment.
On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined calls for the Chinese authorities to refrain from violence.
"Canada shares your concerns about what is happening in Tibet as His Holiness the Dalai Lama told me when he met with me, and as he has been saying recently, his message is one of non-violence and reconciliation and I join with him in that call," Mr. Harper said in a statement he sent to Tibetans rallying near his office on Parliament Hill.
"Canada calls on China to fully respect human rights and peaceful protest. Canada also calls on China to show restraint in dealing with this situation."
The ongoing protests, and the Chinese regime's hardline response have raised debate over the upcoming Olympics scheduled to begin in August in Beijing. Some officials have suggested boycotting the opening ceremonies.
On Wednesday, an Ontario legislator was among the first to propose that Canada boycott the Games altogether.
"The people of Tibet do not enjoy our freedoms. Freedoms we take for granted, are met with violence and the wrath of the Communist Chinese Government," said Member of Provincial Parliament Randy Hillier.
"It is inconsistent to participate in an activity of civility and sportsmanship while China openly oppresses the people of Tibet."
The 24 legislators seeking access to Tibet include senators Consiglio Di Nino, Mira Spivak, and Mobina Jaffer, and MPs David Sweet, Cheryl Gallant, Rob Anders, Peggy Nash, Ken Boshcoff, Larry Bagnell, Paul Dewar, Keith Martin, Alexa McDonough, Scott Reid, Pierre Poilievre, Steven Blaney, Bill Blaikie, Meili Faille, Paul Crête, Christiane Gagnon, Raymond Simard, Libby Davies, John Godfrey, Vivian Barbot, and Irwin Cotler.