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Tibetans dispute official claim of no riot deaths

21/03/2008 - 2:27

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibetans in China's mountainoussouth-western province of Sichuan on Friday disputed thegovernment's claim that nobody was killed in anti-Chinese riotsthere this week, saying they believed several died.

China's official Xinhua news agency said overnight policeshot and wounded four protesters this week in a heavily ethnicTibetan part of the province, where protests broke out afteranti-Chinese riots in neighbouring Tibet last Friday.

The protests have alarmed China, which is keen to put itsbest face forward leading up to the Olympic Games in Beijing inAugust.

Having initially said four protesters were shot dead inSichuan, Xinhua amended its account and said they were woundedand that the police had fired weapons only to defendthemselves.

But two residents of Aba prefecture, where the riotingstarted on Sunday, told Reuters they believed several died whenthe protesters attacked a police station and governmentoffices, burnt cars and attacked officials. Anti-riot troopsthen moved in.

They said police had detained many men suspected ofrioting.

"Everyone here believes that our people died, maybe 10 ormore," said one ethnic Tibetan resident who had previously toldReuters of the clash before Xinhua reported it.

"I'm not a supporter of violence and I oppose attackingpeople just because they're Han," he said, referring to thecountry's majority Han Chinese population. "But I believeTibetans also died. They are not telling facts."


Another Tibetan man in the Aba county town where therioting erupted said he hid inside his home during the riot.

"I'm sure people died. We all know," he said in a brieftelephone conversation. "We don't dare go out. They arearresting many people after what happened."

Both residents asked not to be named, fearing punishmentfor talking to reporters, and other residents contacted refusedto say anything.

Troops and anti-riot police have poured into Tibet andsurrounding regions to secure the area from more protests.

Roadblocks and vehicle checks have been imposed to restricttravel and keep out foreign journalists, making it impossibleto directly test the conflicting accounts.

Authorities said they had arrested dozens of peopleinvolved in the Tibet protests.

China's response to last week's violence -- which it sayswas orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhistleader -- has sparked international criticism and cloudedpreparations for the Olympics.

In a phone call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, U.S.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China to showrestraint towards protesters. But Yang told her the Dalai Lama,the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, was to blame for the riots.

"They attempted to exert pressure on the Chinesegovernment, disturb the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sabotageChina's social stability and harmony," Yang told her, Xinhuareported.

China says 13 "innocent civilians" died in anti-Chineseriots last week in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, after police brokeup earlier peaceful protests led by monks. Exiled Tibetans sayas many as 100 Tibetans have died.

Mindful of the international condemnation of its militarycrackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989, Chinasays security forces in Lhasa exercised "maximum restraint" anddid not use lethal weapons.

(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by DavidFogarty)

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