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China vows 'unwavering' effort to hold onto Tibet

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BEIJING -- China vowed Monday to defend its sovereignty in Tibet as Chinese troops set up checkpoints and mobilized to quell an uprising. A deadline for protesters in the Tibetan capital to turn themselves in passed without any apparent surrenders or arrests.

In the central government's first comment on the anti-China protests in Tibet, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao blamed the violence in Lhasa on supporters of the Dalai Lama, the revered spiritual leader who fled in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

"The Chinese government will unwaveringly protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity," ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a hastily called news conference. "The violent acts have demonstrated the true nature of the Dalai clique."

Some residents reported Monday that Lhasa had quieted down and many people were returning to work. Chinese military police reportedly set up many checkpoints to control movement.

"All across the city today there are checkpoints where you can only enter if you have a permit," said Marion Berjeret, an intern for a French fashion design company who has lived in Lhasa for four months.

Police were doing "door-to-door searches and just going in and ripping apart and looking for insurgents" as of Sunday, said Susan Wetmore, a Canadian who arrived by plane Monday in Chengdu in neighboring Sichuan province.

In Beijing, Liu accused the Dalai Lama's supporters of being behind sometimes violent demonstrations at Chinese embassies and consulates in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

German police detained 25 Tibetans on Monday after demonstrators tried to force their way into the Chinese consulate in Munich and spray-painted "Save Tibet" and "Stop Killing" on the building. Tibetan protesters also clashed with police in Nepal and India.

Protests inside China have spilled from Tibet into neighboring provinces and even the capital, Beijing, where students staged a vigil Monday. There were reports of Tibetans clashing with police Monday in regions near Tibet.

The Tibetan protests began March 10 on the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising. Tibet had been effectively independent for decades before Chinese communist troops entered in 1950.

Champa Phuntsok, Tibet's China-appointed governor, said Monday the death toll from the unrest had risen to 16 and that dozens were injured. He denied a claim by the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in India that 80 Tibetans were killed during the protests in Lhasa.

As the streets of Tibet's capital swarmed with troops, Champa Phuntsok denounced the protesters as criminals and vowed severe punishment for those who had not surrendered by midnight Monday.

"If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law," he told reporters. Otherwise, he added, "we will deal with them harshly."

No arrests or surrenders were reported by the deadline. A woman who answered the telephone at the Lhasa Public Security Bureau after midnight refused to answer questions.

China restricts access by foreign journalists to Tibet, and officials kicked out the few in the region, making it difficult to verify information about the protests, the biggest and fiercest in almost two decades.

The Times of London said in its online edition that authorities paraded handcuffed Tibetan prisoners in Lhasa on Monday. The report said four trucks in a convoy carried 40 people, mostly young men and women, standing in the back, their wrists handcuffed and a soldier behind each one holding the prisoner's head bowed.

In Gansu province's Maqu county, thousands of monks and ordinary Tibetans clashed with police Monday in various locations, police and a Tibet rights group said.

"We have nothing to protect ourselves and we can't fight back," said an officer at the county police headquarters who refused to give his name or other details. He said about 10 police were injured.

A witness in neighboring Sichuan province said troops moved into Ma'erkang county, next to an area where clashes between monks and police broke out Sunday with unconfirmed reports of as many as seven deaths.

At Central Nationalities University in Beijing, an elite school for ethnic minorities, about 200 students held a silent candlelight vigil, sitting down in an outdoor plaza Monday night.

Uniformed and plainclothes security kept watch but did not interfere. Foreign journalists were prevented from taking photos and ordered to leave.

Chinese authorities have expelled foreign reporters from Tibetan areas in Qinghai and Gansu provinces, contravening regulations that opened most of China to foreign media in the period before the Olympics. Some of the few independent media remaining in Lhasa were also ordered out.

"Restrictions on the reporting of the Tibetan protests make a mockery of China's assurances that the media would be allowed to operate freely in the run-up to the Olympic Games, and give us a disturbing preview of the kind of blanket censorship journalists might face in August," said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again urged China to exercise restraint and said Beijing should find a way to work with the Dalai Lama, who she said is not a separatist and could "lend his moral weight" to bringing stability to Tibet.

"There's been a kind of missed opportunity for the Chinese to engage the Dalai Lama," Rice said.


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