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China ups death toll in Tibet riots

22/03/2008 - 7:20
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By Nick Macfie

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said 19 people were killed inriots in the Tibetan capital last week and official mediawarned against the unrest spreading to the northwest region ofXinjiang, where Uighur Muslims bridle under Chinese control.

Eighteen were burnt or hacked to death, Xinhua news agencysaid.

The rising toll comes amid mounting international concernover China's handling of the protests, overshadowing the run-upto the Beijing Olympic Games in August that the host hopes willbe a celebration of its arrival as a world power.

Xinhua said 18 civilians and a policeman died in theviolence. A total of 382 people were wounded, 58 seriously.Arsonists set fire to 908 shops in Lhasa, 84 vehicles, sevenschools and 120 homes, the agency said.

Exiled Tibetans claim as many as 100 have died in theprotests which spilled over this week into neighbouringethnic-Tibetan areas.

Xinhua estimated damage to property at 245 million yuan(17.6 million pounds).

"SPLIT THE MOTHERLAND"

The official media of the northwest region of Xinjiangwarned against outbreaks of unrest there inspired by Tibetanprotests.

"No matter whether it's Tibetan independence, Xinjiangindependence or Taiwanese independence, their goal is all thesame -- to create chaos and split the motherland," said acommentary on the official Xinjiang news Web site(www.tianshannet.com).

"China and Beijing's holding of the Olympic Games in 2008has led separatists at home and abroad to believe they have agolden opportunity. To put it bluntly, if they don't wreckthings, they won't feel comfortable, because they won't haveachieved their goal of spoiling China's image."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressedBeijing to be more open and let the rest of the world see foritself what is happening in Tibet.

"China is only hurting itself by preventing foreignobservers from seeing what is going on," he told the Bildnewspaper.

Beijing has poured troops into the region but is barringforeigners from entering Tibet and some neighbouringethnic-Tibetan areas.

U.S. presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCainhave both criticised China over the issue with McCain saying itwas "not acceptable conduct from a world power."

Chinese officials are adamant that the discontent in Tibet,which Communist troops marched into in 1950, is being driven bythe "Dalai clique" of exiled Tibetans intent on independenceand the official media has stepped up criticism of the DalaiLama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

"CONFESSION"

The Beijing Times said pro-Tibet independence elements hadattacked 17 Chinese embassies or consulates in the UnitedStates, Europe, Australia and India since the monk-ledprotests.

The attacks occurred almost simultaneously, an "obvious"sign they were planned and organised by the Dalai clique, itquoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao assaying.

The overseas edition of the People's Daily, the CommunistParty's official newspaper, said the aim was "to cause trouble"for the Olympics.

The Tibet Daily carried what it said was a confession froma rioter who had repented and been released.

"The Lhasa public security organs have already releasedsome people who participated in the March 14 fighting,smashing, looting and arson incident. They are extremelygrateful for the Party and government's lenient policy," itsaid.

The English-language China Daily dedicated its front pageto a report and graphic illustrating what it said wasinaccurate or biased reporting in the West which put China in abad light.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, denies he wantsanything more than greater autonomy for his homeland, hascriticised the violent protests and offered to come to Beijingfor talks with Chinese officials.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Benjamin KangLim; Editing by Bill Tarrant)


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