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10 dead in anti-China protests in Tibet; witnesses say streets calm

March 16, 2008

BEIJING, March 15 (AP): China moved Saturday to quell the largest and
most violent protests against its rule in Tibet in nearly two decades
after demonstrators rampaged through Lhasa in an uprising that left at
least 10 people dead.

China's governor in Tibet vowed to use harsh measures and law
enforcement officials ordered protesters to surrender. Lhasa's streets
were mostly empty Saturday after the violence that embarrassed the
communist leadership ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Baton-wielding police patrolled the smoke-wreathed capital and
residents remained under curfew. Reports of deaths and arrests were
varied and could not be independently confirmed.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said 10 people — including two
hotel employees and two shop owners — were burned to death, but no
foreigners were hurt. The report did not give any other details.

"We will deal harshly with these criminals in accordance with the
law," said Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibetan government. "Calm
will be restored very soon."

"Beating, smashing, looting and burning — we absolutely condemn this
sort of behavior. This plot is doomed to failure," said Phuntsok, an
ethnic Tibetan, speaking on the sidelines of the National People's
Congress, China's annual legislative session.

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 following a failed
uprising against Chinese rule, is still Tibet's widely revered
spiritual leader. He is reviled by Beijing, who accuses him of waging
a clandestine campaign for formal independence, though he says he
wants only greater autonomy in hopes of preserving Tibet's Buddhist

>From Dharmsala, India, the Dalai Lama appealed to China not to use
violence, saying he was "deeply concerned," and urged Tibetans "not to
resort to violence."

Law enforcement authorities in Tibet were offering leniency for
demonstrators who surrender before Tuesday. Otherwise, they will be
"severely punished," according to a notice carried on official Web
sites and confirmed by prosecutors.

It accused an unspecified number of lawbreakers of "killing innocent
people, surrounding and beating law enforcement officers."

Footage and photos sent from Lhasa provided a clearer picture of the
extent of Friday's uprising. Plumes of smoke billowed from buildings
and small shops scattered across several parts of the city. Fire
trucks moved through mainly empty streets after dark.

On Saturday, Xinhua said Lhasa had "reverted to calm" and electricity
and phone service, which had been cut for parts of Friday, was being

"There was not much traffic on the road," the Xinhua report said.
"Burned cars, motorcycles and bicycles remained scattered on the main
streets, and the air is tinged with smoke."

Some shops were closed but government staff were required to work,
said a woman who answered the telephone at the Lhasa Hotel.

"There's no conflict today. The streets look pretty quiet," said the
woman who refused to give her name for fear of retribution.

Tourists already in Lhasa said they were forced to stay in their
hotels. Others who arrived Friday were "told to go back immediately
without even being allowed to come out of the airport," said a tour
guide, who did not want to be identified.

Government workers said they have been prevented from leaving their buildings.

"We've been here since yesterday. No one has been allowed to leave or
come in," said a woman who works for Lhasa's Work Safety Bureau, which
is located near the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai

"Armored vehicles have been driving past," she said. "Men wearing
camouflage uniforms and holding batons are patrolling the streets.

Calls to shops and department stores rang unanswered. Officials at
Lhasa's public security bureau and government office refused to answer
questions and hung up.

It is extremely difficult to get independent verification of events in
Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area. Foreigners
need special travel permits, and journalists are rarely granted access
except under highly controlled circumstances.

In contrast to the calm on Saturday, the scene Friday was reportedly
very different.

Eyewitness accounts and photos posted on the Internet portrayed chaos
in Lhasa with crowds hurling rocks at security forces, hotels and
restaurants. The U.S. Embassy said Americans had reported gunfire.

At a demonstration outside the United Nations in New York, Psurbu
Tsering of the Tibetan Association of New York and New Jersey said its
members received phone calls from Tibet claiming 70 people had been
killed and 1,000 arrested. The reports could not be verified.

Radio Free Asia quoted witnesses as saying that two bodies were seen
on the ground in the shopping district in the old city. It said other
reports put the death toll higher, but gave no figures.

Shops were set on fire along two main streets surrounding the Jokhang
temple, Tibet's most sacred shrine and the heart of Lhasa's old city,
sending out thick clouds of smoke. Young men set fire to a Chinese
flag and a huge bonfire burned in a street. Armed police in riot gear
backed by armored vehicles blocked intersections, said a Tibetan

The violence, which came on the fifth day of sporadic and largely
peaceful protests, poses difficulties for a communist leadership that
has looked to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics as a way to recast China as a
friendly, modern power. Too rough a crackdown could put that at risk
while balking could embolden protesters, costing Beijing authority in
often restive Tibet. Phuntsok, the Tibetan government head, said no
shots were fired.

"China is afraid of letting this protest mount. On the other hand, the
world's eyes are upon China in advance of the Olympics. If they're too
heavy-handed, it could cause them a lot of problems," said Jamie Metzl
of the New York-based Asia Society. "It's an open question as to how
much China thinks it can afford a major crisis in advance of the
Summer Olympics."

In an ominous turn for Beijing, the street protests broadened Friday.
Photographs taken by camera phone and provided by the Indian branch of
Students for a Free Tibet showed hundreds of Tibetans marching through
Xiahe, a Tibetan town in the western province of Gansu. Robed monks
displayed the banned Tibetan national flag.

Over the centuries, Tibet was at times part of China's dynastic
empires. Communist forces invaded the region in 1950, to reclaim the
Himalayan region and seize the commanding heights overlooking rival

The latest unrest began Monday, the anniversary of the 1959 uprising,
when 300 monks from one monastery demanded the release of other monks
detained last fall. But political demands soon came to the fore. Other
monks and ordinary Tibetans demanded independence and unfurled the
Tibetan flag. Arrests ensued, leading to more protests.

The unrest came as Tibet, long China's poorest province, has wracked
up stunning growth, in part fueled by hefty investment and subsidies
from Beijing meant to alleviate resentment among Tibetans. Still,
Tibetans have complained that the economic benefits have mainly
enriched Chinese, many of them newcomers, leaving Tibetans feeling
more marginalized.

China, which has invested billions of dollars in Olympics
preparations, has staked its national prestige on the games. Five
months before the games begin, it had expected to bask in
international praise. Instead, the protests are attracting the kind of
international attention China doesn't want.
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