Tibetan governor: Riots left only 16 dead

Promises leniency to anti-Chinese protesters who turned themselves in before the end of Monday.

By
March 17, 2008 16:13
Tibetan governor: Riots left only 16 dead

tibet riot 224.88 ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Tibet's governor promised leniency to anti-Chinese protesters who turned themselves in before the end of Monday - and harsh consequences for those who don't - while troops fanned out to quell sympathy protests that have spread to three neighboring provinces. Champa Phuntsok said last week's violent demonstrations in the regional capital of Lhasa left 16 dead and dozens injured. Unconfirmed reports from Tibetan exile groups put the death toll at 80, a claim he denied. The uprising, the fiercest against Chinese rule in the region in almost two decades, has embarrassed China's communist government and undermined its efforts to have an unblemished run-up to the Beijing Olympics. The ensuing crackdown, meanwhile, led the Dalai Lama, Tibetans' exiled spiritual leader, to decry what he called "cultural genocide" in his homeland and call for an international investigation. He also expressed helplessness in the face of the surrender demand. The Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said residents were fearful of a military sweep after the deadline at midnight on Monday. The Tibet governor described a scene of chaos throughout Lhasa on Friday with "people engaged in reckless beating, smashing, looting and burning." Shops, schools, hospitals and banks were targeted and bystanders were beaten and set on fire, he said. "No country would allow those offenders or criminals to escape the arm of justice and China is no exception," said Champa Phuntsok, an ethnic Tibetan installed in the governor's role. "If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law," he said. "If these people could provide further information about the involvement of other people in those crimes, then they could be treated even more leniently." Otherwise, he added, "we will deal with them harshly." He said he did not know if anyone had surrendered so far. A woman from the duty office of Lhasa's Public Security Bureau and a man from the publicity department of the city's Communist Party Committee said they had no idea about the situation. Both refused to give their names or any other details. Meanwhile, security forces were mobilizing across a broad expanse of western China, where demonstrations were springing up in Tibetan communities in the provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. A witness in Sichuan said Monday that government troops had moved into a county in Aba prefecture, where clashes between monks and police broke out Sunday with unconfirmed reports of as many as seven killed. "There are troops that moved into Maerkang County," said a clerk at the Jinchuan Hotel, who asked not to be further identified. In Qinghai, riot police sent to prevent protests set off tensions Sunday when they took up positions outside a monastery in Tongren. Dozens of monks, defying a directive not to gather in groups, marched to a hill where they set off fireworks and burned incense in what one monk said was a protest. In the town of Xiahe in Gansu, authorities clamped down with a curfew after two days of protests inspired by those in Lhasa. Patrols of riot police, in black uniforms, helmets and flak jackets, and armed police in green uniforms carrying batons marched through the town Sunday in groups of 10 and 20. In the provincial capital of Lanzhou, about 500 Tibetan students gathered Sunday on the Lanzhou Northwest Minorities University's soccer field to show solidarity with Tibetans in Lhasa. About 50 of them stayed overnight amid a strong security presence but were prevented by security forces from leaving the campus to enter the city on Monday, the Free Tibet rights group said. In Gansu's Maqu county, which borders Sichuan, violence broke out Monday when thousands of protesters, including monks, clashed with dozens of police. A police officer at the county public security bureau said about 10 policemen were injured. A man who answered the phone at the Maqu county government office said the situation had stabilized. In Nepal, meanwhile, police used bamboo batons to disperse about 100 Tibetan protesters and Buddhist monks in Katmandu on Monday, arresting around 30. The unrest in Tibet began March 10 on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule of the region. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before communist troops entered in 1950. Beijing has said the violence was engineered by supporters of the Dalai Lama, whose government-in-exile has been based in the Indian hillside town of Dharmsala since he fled Tibet after the failed 1959 uprising. He is still the region's widely revered spiritual leader and one of the figures most reviled by China's communist leadership. Speaking to reporters in India on Sunday, the Dalai Lama called for his followers to protest peacefully but said he would not order them to end the demonstrations. "Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place," the Dalai Lama said, referring to an influx of Chinese migration into Tibetan areas and restrictions on Buddhist practices - policies that have generated deep resentment among Tibetans. The Nobel Peace laureate said that he felt "helpless" in the face of the Chinese ultimatum for protesters to surrender. "I feel very sad, very serious, very anxious. Cannot do anything. That is helpless," he said. "This is something like the people's movement," he said, calling himself just a spokesman for the Tibetan people. "Morally, I don't want to demand 'do this, do that.'" Beijing restricts access to Tibet for foreign media, making it difficult to independently verify the casualties and the scale of protests and suppression. Hong Kong broadcaster TVB said Monday that public security officers kicked out reporters from three Hong Kong television stations in Lhasa - Cable TV, TVB and ATV. Local governments in western China were also starting to ban foreign reporters, citing safety concerns. State television broadcast extensive footage of torched buildings and streets strewn with burned and looted goods, underscoring the government's drive to emphasize the destructive nature of the protests without discussing their underlying causes. Champa Phuntsok said "The rioters resorted to extremely brutal means." In one case, gasoline was poured over a person who was then set on fire and died, he said. In another, the protesters "knocked out a police officer on patrol and then they used a knife to cut a piece of flesh from his buttocks the size of a fist." He described 13 of the dead as "innocent civilians," and said another three people died jumping out of buildings to avoid arrest. Dozens of armed police and public security officers were also injured, Champa Phuntsok said.

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