Tibetans dispute official claim of no riot deaths

21/03/2008 - 4:48

By John Ruwitch

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

China's official Xinhua news agency said overnight thatpolice shot and wounded four protesters this week in a heavilyethnic Tibetan part of the province, where protests broke outafter anti-Chinese riots in neighbouring Tibet last Friday.

The unrest has alarmed China, keen to put its best faceforward leading up to the August 8-24 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Tensions remain high in Tibet, Sichuan and other areaswhere the government has poured in troops.

Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in Sichuan that acts as agateway to the restive region, was crowded with troops, some onpatrol, some loudly practising martial arts moves in the townsquare.

Students at the local Tibetan-language school were lockedin unless they had special permission to leave. Drivers saidthey were unwilling to travel into tense mountain towns.

"I'm in this to make money, but no matter how much you payme I won't go that way," one Kangding driver said.

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. Other residents refused to sayanything.

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 check the conflicting accounts.

Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded broadcaster, said onThursday up to 2,000 Buddhist monks and laypeople continued toprotest in Huangnan Prefecture, Sichuan. The report could notbe verified.

Authorities said they had arrested dozens of peopleinvolved in the Tibet protests. The Tibet Daily reported onFriday that more "wanted" notices were issued the previous dayand three suspects had been captured.

More than 170 rioters have handed themselves in, the reportsaid, also offering a phone number for locals to inform onsuspected protesters in return for secrecy and rewards.

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 Chris Buckley and Lindsay Beck inBeijing; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and David Fogarty)

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