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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China should suffer a boycott of its cherished Beijing Olympics if it mishandles protests in restive Tibet, Hollywood actor and Tibetan activist Richard Gere said on Friday.
Gere, a close follower of the Dalai Lama and chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, stressed that neither the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader nor the ICT advocates a boycott of the Summer Olympics.
But he said it was his personal opinion that it would be "unconscionable" to attend the Beijing Games if China failed to deal peacefully with unrest in the Himalayan region -- protests that have turned to riots and already claimed several lives.
"I've not been pro-boycott, but I think if this is not handled correctly, yes we should boycott. Everyone should boycott," Gere told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Gere, a Buddhist for some 25 years, said he was grieving for "my bothers and sisters" in Tibet but "sad for both sides" in a dispute has that simmered and occasionally exploded since China annexed Tibet in 1950.
"As educated, as sensitive as the Chinese are, why they've misread the Tibetan situation from the very beginning is beyond me," he said.
"It's just so foolish and short-sighted. Everything that they want is destroyed in moments like this," said Gere, referring to the Chinese quest for international respect and recognition they seek in hosting the Olympics.
Gere's Tibetan contacts have all described the uprising as spontaneous, he said, adding that he did not believe the marches were linked to the Olympics.
Rather, marches held by Tibetans worldwide this week to mark the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Beijing's rule that led to the Dalai Lama fleeing to India were part of a long succession of grievances, he said.
"It's just a pressure cooker and, eventually, the law of emotional physics is it will explode at some point," he said.
Reporting by Paul Eckert, editing by Todd Eastham