US first lady Bush tours Beijing's Forbidden City

Aug. 09, 2008, 2:28 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The doors of the Forbidden City hadn't yet opened to tourists Saturday morning when Laura Bush arrived for a tour - one of the highlights of what is expected to be her final official visit to Asia as the U.S. first lady.

Her visit to the former imperial palace next to Tiananmen Square came just eight hours after she attended the Olympics' opening ceremony. The first lady visited a new exhibit of imperial robes and walked through a couple of ceremonial halls before invited journalists were escorted away.

"It was spectacular. Really unbelievable," she said of the opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, dozens of curious Chinese and foreign tourists who entered the Forbidden City minutes after her arrival were motioned out of her way by Chinese security officers.

Saturday was meant to be a quiet day for the Bush family, with U.S. President George W. Bush scheduled to watch the games. The Forbidden City visit, the first lady's second trip to the sprawling former palace, was the only publicly announced event on Mrs. Bush's daily schedule.

"We've had a very fun family visit," Mrs. Bush said, as she posed for photos with her daughter Barbara.

But what is believed to be the Bushes' final official Asian visit has been far from quiet.

The president criticized China's human rights record in a speech in Thailand earlier this week. The Chinese government responded angrily, but there seemed to be no ripples as the Bushes attended a state luncheon for world leaders with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday. The two men sat side by side.

The Olympics' opening ceremony also went off without incident, though Chinese people watching the ceremony at one public screening event in Beijing booed briefly when the camera panned to the U.S. president.

Mrs. Bush has become more outspoken herself over the years, especially on the issue of Myanmar, also known as Burma. The isolated Southeast Asian nation is closely allied with China.

On Thursday, she flew to the Thai border with Myanmar to meet with refugees who fled a brutal campaign by Myanmar's military junta.

"We urge the Chinese to do what other countries have done - to sanction, to put a financial squeeze on the Burmese generals," Mrs. Bush said Thursday at the camp in pouring rain.

The Myanmar junta's decades-long conflict with a number of ethnic minorities has led to an ongoing exodus, and about 140,000 refugees now live in camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.

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