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Tibetans dispute official claim of no riot deaths

21/03/2008 - 7:21

By John Ruwitch

KANGDING, China (Reuters) - Tibetans in China's tensesouthwestern province of Sichuan on Friday said they believedseveral people had been killed in anti-Chinese riots there thisweek, disputing official claims that none died.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported 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 a week ago.

The unrest has alarmed China, keen to look its best in therun-up to the August 8-24 Olympic Games in Beijing when ithopes to show the world that it has arrived as a world power.

Tensions remain high in Tibet, Sichuan and otherneighbouring areas where the government has poured in troops.

Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in Sichuan and a gatewayto the restive region, was crowded with troops, some on patrol,some loudly practising martial arts moves in the town square.

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.

Two residents of Aba prefecture, where rioting began onSunday, told Reuters they believed several died when policefired on protesters attacking officials and state buildings.

"Everyone here believes that our people died, maybe 10 ormore," said one ethnic Tibetan resident.

"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.

"I'M SURE PEOPLE DIED"

Another Tibetan man said he hid in his home during theriot.

"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 men asked not to be named, fearing punishment fortalking to reporters. Other residents refused to say anything.

Troops and anti-riot police have set up roadblocks and arekeeping out foreigners.

"With all the troops that have gone up there, it's undercontrol now. They have tried for all those years to gainindependence and failed. So it won't happen. Not now -- it'simpossible," said Ran Hongkui, a Chinese shopkeeper on the roadbetween Kangding and Chengdu where convoy after convoy of armedpolice has passed.

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.

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

State-run Tibet television continued to show footage oflast week's riots, including scenes of maroon-robed monkshurling rocks at police, protesters kicking in shop fronts andplumes of black smoke from burned-out cars in the local capitalLhasa.

Its newsreaders echoed the central government insistencethat the violence was orchestrated by exiled Tibetan leader,the Dalai Lama, and his "Dalai clique" to agitate forindependence and embarrass Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games.

The 72-year-old monk, who fled Tibet in 1959, says he isagainst the violence, only wants greater autonomy for hishomeland and is willing to travel to Beijing for talks.

The Chinese press never gives the Dalai Lama sympathetictreatment, but has recently intensified its vilification of theNobel Peace Prize winner.

The Tibet Daily called him "a faithful tool of Westernanti-China forces, the general source of social chaos inTibet".

And in a commentary the previous day, it wrote: "Sincedefecting abroad, the Dalai clique and its hangers-on have...never given up on hoping to restore their corrupt, dissolutetheocracy and their privileges as feudal rulers and serfmasters."

China's response to the rioting has triggered internationalcriticism and some calls to boycott the Games opening ceremony.

In a phone call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, U.S.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China to showrestraint towards protesters. Yang told her the Dalai Lama, theexiled 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," Xinhua quoted him assaying.

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.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Lindsay Beck inBeijing; Editing by David Fox)


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