Nobel Peace Prize

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Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and 25 other Nobel laureates on Thursday condemned the Chinese government's violent crackdown on Tibetan protesters and called on Beijing to exercise restraint.

"We protest the unwarranted campaign waged by the Chinese government against our fellow Nobel laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama," the group said in a statement released by Wiesel.

Wiesel told The Associated Press that the group wanted renewed negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

"The latest events are dramatic and the main thing is to stop the present oppression, persecution and violence," Wiesel said.

"I don't understand the Chinese hierarchy there," he added. "Why are they afraid of Tibet?"

Led by Buddhist monks, protests had begun peacefully in Lhasa early last week but erupted into rioting on March 14, drawing a harsh response from Chinese authorities.

The crackdown drew worldwide attention to China's human rights record, threatening to overshadow Beijing's attempts to project an image of unity and prosperity in the lead-up to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, said he is close friends with the Dalai Lama and that the Tibetan leader has repeatedly said he is not asking for a sovereign independent Tibet. "All he wants is religious and cultural autonomy," Wiesel said.

That autonomy, the statement said, "is fundamental to the preservation of the ancient Tibetan heritage."

When asked what he would do if the Chinese did not agree to talks, Wiesel said: "If they don't agree and the violence goes on we will have to ask for more, maybe the reconsideration of the Olympics ... but we are not there yet."

Wiesel said it was not the time for the international community to take actions such as boycotts. But he said pressure for peace and dialogue is needed until we "hear reports from the Tibetan themselves that all has been restored and the prisons are opened."

Tibetan exile groups have claimed that 80 people were killed during the protest and its aftermath, while Beijing maintains that 16 died and more than 300 were injured.