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China Sends More Troops to Restive Areas

March 21, 2008

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN

BEIJING 20 Mar 08 (AP) — China sent additional troops into restive areas
and made more arrests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in an effort to
suppress anti-government protests even as the Dalai Lama offered
face-to-face negotiations with Chinese leaders.

Government officials acknowledged for the first time that the sometimes
violent protests against Chinese rule of Tibet have spread to Tibetan
communities in other provinces after sweeping through Lhasa last week.

Hundreds of paramilitary police aboard at least 80 trucks traveled along
the main road winding through the mountains into southeastern Tibet.
Others set up camp and patrolled in riot gear, helmets and, for a few,
rifles in the area above Tiger Leaping Gorge, a tourist attraction that
usually sees little unrest.

Such scenes were repeated across far-flung towns and villages in Tibetan
areas of adjacent provinces to reassert control as sporadic
demonstrations continued to flare. Foreigners were barred from traveling
there and tour groups were banned from Tibet, isolating a region about
four times the size of France.

The protests against Chinese rule started peacefully in Tibet's capital,
Lhasa, early last week, but erupted into riots last Friday, drawing a
harsh response from Chinese authorities. Authorities say 325 people were
injured and 16 people died.

China says the riots and protests were plotted from abroad by the Dalai
Lama, the exiled spiritual leader revered by Tibetans, and his
supporters. They have denied Tibetan exile groups' claims that 80 died
in the violence and ensuing crackdown.

Speaking from the seat of his government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India,
the Dalai Lama reiterated that he was not seeking independence for
Tibet. He offered to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other
Chinese leaders, though said he would not travel to Beijing unless there
was a "real concrete development."

"The whole world knows Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, one
hundred times, thousand times I have repeated this. It is my mantra — we
are not seeking independence," the 72-year-old Dalai Lama told reporters.

"The Tibet problem must be solved between Tibetan people and Chinese
people," he said.

The Foreign Ministry expressed "grave concern" over a planned meeting
between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Dalai Lama, telling
Brown not to offer support to the exiled leader.

At a tense news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the
government suggested that foreign tourists stay out of western Gansu and
Sichuan provinces, the scene of additional clashes earlier this week
between Tibetan protesters and security forces.

After a long pause, he added: "But I shall assure you that our
government is fully capable of maintaining social stability and ensuring
the security of tourists."

In Sichuan's Aba county, a Tibetan woman reached by phone Thursday said
she had heard of numerous arrests of protesters in the area.

"There are many, many troops outside," she said. "I'm afraid to leave
the house," said the woman, who refused to give her name for fear of
retaliation by authorities.

Police were checking ID cards at checkpoints and could be heard shouting
for protesters to turn themselves in.

Troops blocked roads also in nearby Serthar, also in Sichuan, confining
residents to their homes, said a woman reached there by phone.

The London-based Free Tibet Campaign reported that troops had been sent
to the county after local residents blew up a bridge near the village of
Gudu.

Protests were reported also in neighboring Qinghai province, which is
heavily Tibetan.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the protesters attacked shops and
government offices on Sunday in Aba, known as Ngawa in Tibetan, but made
no mention of allegations by pro-Tibet groups abroad that troops fired
on protesters, killing several.

Zhang Yusheng, a spokesman for the Gansu provincial government, said a
"small number of lawbreakers shouted reactionary slogans, raised the
flag of separatism and adopted violent methods."

Shops, schools, homes, vehicles and government offices in Gansu's Gannan
prefecture — a predominantly Tibetan area — were attacked, posing an
"extremely grave threat" to social order, Zhang was quoted by state
media as telling reporters on Wednesday.

Reinforcements were brought in and order was restored, he said. He
mentioned no arrests.

Despite those reassurances, a hotel receptionist in the regional center
of Luqu said employees and guests had been holed up inside since Tibetan
protesters marched through the area on Sunday.

"The streets are now filled with police officers. Our hotel is booked
out with tourists, but no one feels safe enough to set foot outside,"
said the woman, who refused to give her name or that of her hotel for
fear of retaliation by authorities.

A police officer in the nearby town of Maqu refused to answer questions
about the situation.

The reports confirm previous claims by Tibetan exile groups that the
protests had spread. Foreign journalists have been banned from going to
Tibet and have found it increasingly difficult to travel to areas in
other provinces with Tibetan populations.

The Tibet Daily reported that 24 people had been arrested for
endangering state security and for other "grave crimes" for their roles
in last Friday's riots in Lhasa. Another 170 people have reportedly
turned themselves in to police.

The protests have been the biggest challenge in almost two decades to
Chinese rule in Tibet, a Himalayan region that the People's Liberation
Army occupied in 1950 after several decades of effective independence.

But authorities appeared to be regaining control in Tibet and
surrounding provinces where more than half of China's 5.4 million
Tibetans live. Moving from town to town, police checked IDs and set up
roadblocks to keep Tibetans in and reporters out.

On Thursday morning, an Associated Press photographer was turned away
from a flight to Zhongdian in Yunnan province. There were 12 policemen,
some with automatic weapons, at the check-in counter. The police said no
foreigners were allowed to travel to Tibetan areas due to the protests.

The unrest has prompted discussion of a possible boycott of the Aug. 8
opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and calls for China to address
Tibetans' grievances and engage in direct talks with the Dalai Lama.

Despite China's relentless vilification, the Dalai Lama — winner of the
1989 Nobel Peace Prize — remains widely revered by Tibetans, traveling
widely and meeting an array of politicians and celebrities.

China has ignored calls for dialogue, casting recent events as evidence
that the Dalai Lama could not be negotiated with.

Tibet's hard-line Communist Party boss Zhang Qingli this week labeled
the Dalai Lama a "wolf in monk's robes" and said Beijing was in a
"life-and-death" struggle with his supporters.

Adding to Beijing's worries, activists said Thursday they would
demonstrate in Beijing during the Olympics to press China to help end
bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region.

Associated Press writers Audra Ang and Anita Chang in Beijing, and Greg
Baker in Zhongdian contributed to this report.
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