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Tibet governor promises leniency as death toll rises to 16

March 18, 2008

BEIJING (AP) — Tibet's governor denounced anti-Chinese protesters in
Lhasa as criminals and vowed to bring them to justice as a midnight
deadline loomed Monday for them to turn themselves in. More clashes
erupted in other Chinese provinces.

Champa Phuntsok said the death toll from last week's violent
demonstrations in the Tibetan capital had risen to 16 and dozens were
injured. The Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan government in India has said
that 80 Tibetans were killed — a claim Champa Phuntsok denied.

The uprising, the fiercest against Chinese rule in almost two decades,
and its spread to other provinces have posed a challenge for the
Communist government as it prepares for the Beijing Summer Olympics,
which were supposed to raise China's world standing.

After a weekend in which witnesses said Lhasa echoed with gunfire and
armed police shut down the city to reimpose order, Champa Phuntsok
steered a line between sounding reassuring and being tough. He told
reporters security forces "did not carry or use any lethal weapons," but
promised that authorities would deal harshly with rioters who defy a
surrender notice issued Saturday.

"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.

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

The Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said
residents were fearful of a military sweep after the midnight deadline.

While Lhasa was still swarming with troops, more security forces were
mobilizing across western China's mountain valleys and broad plains to
deal with sympathy protests in Tibetan communities in the provinces of
Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai.

In Gansu's Maqu county, which borders Sichuan, 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.

In the city of Lanzhou, about 500 Tibetan students who gathered Sunday
on the Northwest Minorities University's soccer field abandoned an
overnight vigil. Fifty tried to march into the city, only to be blocked
by security forces from leaving the campus, said the London-based Free
Tibet Campaign.

A witness in Sichuan said troops moved into Ma'erkang county, adjacent
to an area where clashes between monks and police broke out Sunday with
unconfirmed reports that as many as seven were killed.

The government also began to tighten its already firm hold on
information. Officials expelled foreign reporters from Tibetan areas in
Qinghai and Gansu provinces, contravening regulations that opened most
of China to foreign media for the Olympics.

Some of the few independent media remaining in Lhasa were also ordered
out, making it difficult to verify casualties and other details.

Police in Lhasa kicked out reporters from three Hong Kong television
stations — Cable TV, TVB and ATV — and made TVB delete footage of
Friday's violence, TVB reported.

Sympathy protests outside China also continued to erupt.

In Nepal, police used bamboo batons to disperse about 100 Tibetan
protesters and Buddhist monks near the main U.N. office in Katmandu on
Monday. Some 44 people were arrested.

The unrest in Tibet began March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959
uprising against Chinese rule in the region that sent the Dalai Lama and
much of the leading Buddhist clergy into exile. Tibet was effectively
independent for decades before Communist troops entered in 1950.

But what began as largely peaceful protests by monks spiraled Friday
into a melee with Tibetans attacking Chinese and burning their
businesses. The outburst came after several years of intensifying
government control over Buddhist practices and vilification of the Dalai
Lama, whom Tibetans still revere.

In the wake of Friday's violence, Beijing ratcheted up the rhetoric
against the Dalai Lama, accusing his supporters of masterminding the
riot — a line repeated by Champa Phuntsok.

"This was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai
clique and it was created under the collusion of Tibet independence
separatist forces both inside and outside China," Champa Phuntsok said,
without giving any details.

Speaking to reporters in India on Sunday, the Dalai Lama decried what he
called the "cultural genocide" taking place in his homeland but
reiterated his commitment to non-violence. He called for an
international investigation into China's crackdown.

Champa Phuntsok 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.

Among the 16 dead, he said, three people jumped out of building to avoid
arrest while 13 were "innocent civilians."

In one case, a person died after being covered in gasoline and then set
on fire, he said. In another incident, 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 said.

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 calm had been restored. Residents said Monday that
police were patrolling the streets and had sealed off key roads in the
downtown area, where the riots occurred, but that conditions were not as
tense as over the weekend.

"Today many people went back to work and some schools are open," said a
tour guide. "Prices of food, gasoline and other things are soaring."

Another woman said there was "still a general mood of fear about going
out. But it's better than a few days ago." She said a public
announcement on a local television station was encouraging people to
give themselves up.

Champa Phuntsok said he did not know if anyone had surrendered and
police and government officials in Lhasa refused to comment.

In a further sign of China's concern about repairing the situation,
Tibet's hard-line Communist Party secretary Zhang Qingli — the region's
most powerful official — returned to Lhasa over the weekend and met with
security forces, the official Tibet Daily newspaper said. Zhang had been
attending the national legislature's annual session in Beijing, which
ends Tuesday.

The Tibet Daily quoted Zhang as saying security forces "carried out a
frontal assault against the thugs" who rioted in Lhasa.
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