By John Ruwitch
KANGDING, China (Reuters) - Tibetans in China's tensesouthwestern province of Sichuan said on Friday they believedpolice had killed several people in anti-Chinese riots therethis week, disputing official claims 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 it has arrived as a world power.
China's crackdown has drawn international criticisms, withU.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling thesituation in Tibet a challenge to the world's conscience andGermany urging Beijing to allow foreign observers in theregion.
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.
Chinese mountaineers chosen to take an Olympic torch to thetop of Mount Everest said their journey there through Tibetwould be a show of national unity against exiled Tibetan leaderthe Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of instigating the unrest.
"We shall go all out to ensure the smooth movement of thetorch relay. We must strengthen ethnic unity while hostileforces try to drive a wedge between ethnic groups," YinXunping, an official with the Tibet mountaineering effort, wasquoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
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.
Drivers refused 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.
One ethnic Tibetan resident of Aba prefecture, whererioting began on Sunday, said he believed several died whenpolice fired on protesters attacking officials and statebuildings.
"Everyone here believes that our people died, maybe 10 ormore," he told Reuters, asking not to be named, fearingpunishment for talking to reporters.
TROOPS KEEPING FOREIGNERS OUT
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 theroute passed by convoy of armed police heading west.
China's response to the rioting has triggered internationalcriticism and some calls to boycott the Games opening ceremony.
Pelosi, who met the Dalai Lama in his exile home in theIndian town of Dharamsala, said Tibet was "a challenge to theconscience of the world".
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 people.
The Tibet Daily Web site (www.tibetdaily.net) publishedpictures of the most wanted suspects, many photographed in thethick of the rioting and including two men in monks' robes.
Most appeared to be young men. One looked to be wielding asword while others were hurling rocks.
State-run Tibet television continued to show footage oflast week's riots, including scenes of maroon-robed monksthrowing rocks at police, protesters kicking in shop fronts andplumes of black smoke from burned-out cars in the local capitalLhasa.
Its newsreaders echoed Beijing's insistence that theviolence was orchestrated by the "Dalai clique" agitating forindependence and trying to embarrass China ahead of the Games.
The 72-year-old Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959, says heis against the violence, only wants greater autonomy for hishomeland and is willing to travel to Beijing for talks.
The Chinese press has intensified its vilification of theNobel Peace Prize winner, while Pelosi called for aninternational probe to clear the Dalai Lama's name.
The Tibet Daily called him a "jackal with a human face andthe heart of a beast" and accused him of "never giving uphoping to restore their corrupt, dissolute theocracy and theirprivileges as feudal rulers and serf masters".
In a phone call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, U.S.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China for restraint.Yang told her the Dalai Lama 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. (Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Lindsay Beckin Beijing; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)