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China pours troops into Tibet

March 21, 2008

BEIJING March 20, 2008 (AFP) — Thousands of soldiers were seen in Lhasa
on Thursday amid reports of a huge military build-up, as the Dalai Lama
expressed fears China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters had caused many
casualties.

Long military convoys were on the move in Tibet while troops also poured
into nearby provinces, after a week of violent unrest against China's
rule of the Himalayan region, witnesses, activist groups and media
reports said.

"We saw a big convoy of military vehicles with troops in the back,"
German journalist Georg Blume said from the Tibetan capital Lhasa early
Thursday.

"One convoy was about two kilometres (1.2 miles) long and contained
about 200 trucks. Each had 30 soldiers on board so that's about 6,000
military personnel in one convoy."

Blume, who works for the German newspaper Die Zeit, and another witness
in Lhasa said they had seen security forces going from one house to the
next.

"There are lots of security forces on the streets. We can see Chinese
security going door-to-door. It's very tense," an independent source in
the city, who did want to be named for fear of retaliation, told AFP by
phone.

A week of protests against China's 57-year rule of Tibet erupted into
rioting in Lhasa last Friday. Demonstrations have since spilled over
into nearby Chinese provinces with sizeable ethnic Tibetan populations.

China said rioters killed 13 innocent civilians in Lhasa while denying
that it used deadly force to end the protests. Exiled Tibetan leaders
have said about 100 people were believed to have been killed in the
Chinese crackdown.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader who fled his homeland after a
failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, on Thursday expressed
concerns for the many people he said had fallen victim to the Chinese
security forces.

"We don't know exact numbers. Some say six, some say 100, but places
have been cut off. There are movements of Chinese troops. I am really
worried a lot of casualties have happened," he said from his base of
exile in northern India.

The unrest has been a public relations nightmare for China in the
lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in August, an event the nation's
communist rulers had hoped would showcase a harmonious country.

While no government has called for a boycott of the Games, China has
faced increasing international pressure to resolve the unrest peacefully
and to hold talks with the Dalai Lama.

The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said Thursday he was prepared to meet
Chinese President Hu Jintao.

But China all but ruled out talks, with foreign ministry spokesman Qin
Gang referring to the Dalai Lama as a double-dealing "splittist" bent on
Tibetan independence.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said that he does not want independence
for his homeland, but instead seeks greater cultural autonomy under
Chinese rule and an end to what he describes as widespread repression.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday he planned to meet
with the Dalai Lama, triggering a swift response from Beijing.

"We have expressed our great concern over that," Qin told reporters.

Australia added to the pressure on Thursday, with Foreign Minister
Stephen Smith expressing concern over the violence and calling on China
to allow foreign journalists and diplomats access to Tibet and other
hotspot areas.

China has banned foreign journalists from Lhasa and tried to block them
from the nearby western provinces of China, where a spate of violent
protests have taken place over the past week.

"To ensure the security and safety of foreign tourists, we suggest they
do not go to these places at present," said Qin, when asked if tourists
should avoid Sichuan province in southwestern China and Gansu in the north.

Germany's Blume was ordered out of Lhasa on Thursday, and there are now
believed to be no more foreign reporters in the capital.

Nevertheless, reports of the huge troop build-up in Lhasa and the nearby
provinces emerged.

More than 400 vehicles were seen heading to Tibet through mountain
passes in western China, a BBC reporter said, without specifying his
location because of Chinese restrictions on foreign press reporting in
the area.

"Over the past two days I've seen increasing numbers of troops heading
for the Tibetan border but this is the largest deployment by far," the
reporter said.

Large troop movements also took place in Sichuan province, which borders
the Tibetan Autonomous Region and has several mainly Tibetan areas, one
foreign reporter there told AFP.

Authorities have arrested 24 people linked to the protests in Lhasa,
while 170 people have surrendered to police, state-run Xinhua news
agency reported.

Activist groups say hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested.
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