China: Tibet a 'life-and-death' battle

"The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast."

dalai lama 88 (photo credit: )
dalai lama 88
(photo credit: )
China called the Dalai Lama a "wolf in monk's robes" Wednesday and said it was locked in a "life-and-death battle" with his supporters after protests marking the biggest challenge to Chinese rule in Tibet in almost two decades. State media, meanwhile, reported more than 100 people had surrendered to police in and around Tibet's regional capital of Lhasa, where peaceful protests turned violent Friday. The protests, which Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating, have focused international attention on China's human rights record ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. The US has called on China to address Tibetans' grievances and engage in direct talks with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader. But China has angrily rejected all calls for dialogue, and Tibet's hardline Communist Party chief was quoted Wednesday in a particularly viscous attack on the Dalai Lama. "The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast," Zhang Qingli was quoted in the Tibet Daily as saying at a meeting of the Tibet government. "We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy," Zhang said. On Tuesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao accused the Dalai Lama's supporters of organizing the violent clashes in hopes of sabotaging the Olympics and bolstering their campaign for independence in the Himalayan territory. The communist government has promised leniency for protesters who handed themselves in - and pledged to harshly punish those who did not. "Those criminals ... shouldn't think they can get lucky. All criminals will definitely be caught in the net," the official Tibet Daily newspaper said on its Web site. It was impossible to confirm the reports of surrender, and no figures were given for people hunted down and arrested. Foreign media are banned from Tibet, and China's entirely state-controlled media have reported only the official version of events, in which the government has said rioters killed 16 people. The government said troops did not fire on protesters and has denied claims by overseas Tibetan groups that 80 were killed. The official Xinhua News Agency said mobs smashed and torched shops, homes, banks, government schools and offices, along with dozens of vehicles, setting fires in more than 300 locations. Xinhua said losses to businesses were estimated at more than $14 million. Police barred foreigners from traveling to areas outside Tibet with large Tibetan populations and were seen removing Tibetans from vehicles traveling into lower lying areas populated mainly by Chinese. Chinese forces occupied the Himalayan region in 1950 after several decades of effective independence. Initially led by monks, the demonstrations began peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, and then spiraled out of control. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet during the uprising, has urged his followers to remain peaceful, saying he would resign as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if violence got out of control. However, he also suggested China may have fomented unrest in the Lhasa and nearby provinces to discredit him. Critics say China fuels such anger through harsh restrictions on Tibetan culture and Buddhism - including routine vilification of the Dalai Lama, who is deeply revered by most Tibetans. The government has also been accused of marginalizing Tibetans economically, in part by encouraging migration to Tibet by members of the Han Chinese ethnic majority. Pope Benedict XVI appealed for dialogue and tolerance between Chinese and Tibetans and expressed "sadness and pain" for the violence in Tibet. Because of the crackdown on protests, some Tibetan activist groups have argued that the Olympic torch relay should not go through Tibet. Beijing plans for the torch to be carried to the top of Mount Everest. Organizing committee Executive Vice President Jiang Xiaoyu said the relay would go through Tibet as planned, saying the ascent to the top of the world's tallest mountain would be the "highlight" of the relay and "a great feat in Olympic history." On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner backtracked on suggestions he was open to the idea of dignitaries boycotting the Games' opening ceremonies, calling the proposal "unrealistic." Lhasa was reportedly calm on Wednesday and under a tight security presence that moved in over the weekend. An employee of the local Coca-Cola bottler said a small demonstration was held in the city on Tuesday, but protesters had fled when troops arrived. He declined to give his name for fear of harassment from authorities. He said the company had conducted no business since Friday when customers' shops and supermarkets had been attacked and looted. Protests spilled over from Tibet into surrounding provinces in recent days, as police and soldiers set up checkpoints across a wide swath of western China. Officers turned back an Associated Press photographer traveling west from Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu near the Wolong panda preserve. Officers said an order was issued Monday barring foreigners from all Tibetan areas in the province for 10 days. An official with the Sichuan Foreign Affairs Department said no official notice had been issued, but said she had heard of two cases of police turning reporters away. "I wouldn't suggest trying again," said the woman, who like many Chinese government workers, gave only her surname, Yuan. China imposed a ban on tour groups traveling to Tibet last week, dealing a blow to the region's fast-growing tourist industries. Officers were also seen pulling Tibetans in traditional dress off buses leaving Tibetan regions, searching their luggage and questioning them. It was not clear whether they were allowed to continue their journeys. Tibetans in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu tried to enter an area where the United Nations offices are located, but were stopped by police. In Bangkok, about 20 demonstrators unfurled a Tibetan flag outside the Chinese Embassy and called on Beijing to "immediately stop the killing and human rights abuses" in Tibet.