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China ups Tibet death toll

22/03/2008 - 15:59
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By David Gray

KANGDING, China (Reuters) - China said 19 people died 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 in the Lhasaviolence, Xinhua news agency said. It has repeatedly quotedofficials as saying separatists backed by the exiled Tibetanspiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, engineered the protests.

But China's handling of the unrest has been met by mountinginternational concern, overshadowing the run-up to the BeijingOlympic Games in August the host wants to a celebration of itsarrival as a world power.

Xinhua said 18 civilians and a policeman died in Lhasa. Atotal of 382 people were wounded, 58 seriously in the violence.

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

"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 has barredforeigners from entering Tibet and some neighbouringethnic-Tibetan areas.

A group of 29 Chinese dissidents urged Beijing to opendirect dialogue with the Dalai Lama. "We appeal to thecountry's leaders to directly engage in dialogue with the DalaiLama. We hope to eliminate misunderstanding between Han andTibetans," the group said in an open letter e-mailed toreporters, referring to the majority Han Chinese.

Chinese officials are adamant the discontent in Tibet, intowhich Communist troops marched in 1950, is being driven by the"Dalai clique" of exiled Tibetans, launching furious criticismagainst the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

"A handful of separatists ... undermined social stabilityand harmony in Tibet. I don't think this criminal action isacceptable," state television showed a senior Tibetan Buddhisttelling maroon-robed monks.

"CONFESSION"

The Tibet Daily carried what it said was a confession fromone 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 Jonathan Thatcher and Nick Macfie)


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