Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says riots in Tibet caused heavy loss of life and that the government acted with extreme restraint in putting...
BEIJING — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says riots in Tibet caused heavy loss of life and that the government acted with extreme restraint in putting down the protests.
Wen’s comments today were the highest-level response to the violence in Tibet, rocked by the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.
Wen also blamed the violence on supporters of the Dalai Lama, the revered spiritual leader who fled in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Some residents reported Monday that Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, had quieted down and many people were returning to work.
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“All across the city today there are checkpoints where you can only enter if you have a permit,” said Marion Berjeret, an intern for a French fashion-design company who has lived in Lhasa for four months.
She said foreigners have been moved to the outskirts of the city, where the situation was less tense.
Police were doing “door-to-door searches and just going in and ripping apart and looking for insurgents” as of Sunday, said Susan Wetmore, a Canadian who arrived by plane Monday in Chengdu in neighboring Sichuan province.
She said there were at least 10 checkpoints between the heart of the city and the airport about 55 miles away.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao accused the Dalai Lama’s supporters of being behind sometimes-violent demonstrations at Chinese embassies and consulates in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
German police detained 25 Tibetans on Monday after demonstrators tried to force their way into the Chinese consulate in Munich and spray-painted “Save Tibet” and “Stop Killing” on the building. Tibetan protesters also clashed with police in Nepal and India.
Protests inside China have spilled from Tibet into neighboring provinces and even the capital, Beijing, where students staged a vigil Monday. There were reports of Tibetans clashing with police Monday in regions near Tibet.
The upheaval is prompting scrutiny of the communist government’s human-rights record ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics, which China had hoped would boost its image.
The Tibetan protests began March 10 on the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising. Tibet had been effectively independent for decades before Chinese communist troops entered in 1950.
Champa Phuntsok, Tibet’s China-appointed governor, said Monday that the death toll from the unrest had risen to 16 and that dozens were injured. He denied a claim by the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile in India that 80 Tibetans were killed during protests in Lhasa.
As the streets of Tibet’s capital swarmed with troops, Champa Phuntsok denounced the protesters as criminals and vowed severe punishment if they did not surrender by midnight.
“If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law,” he told reporters. Otherwise, he added, “we will deal with them harshly.”
Tensions were high in Lhasa, where people worried about a possible military sweep, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said.
China restricts access by foreign journalists to Tibet, and officials kicked out the few in the region, making it difficult to verify information about the protests.
The Times of London said in its online edition that authorities paraded handcuffed Tibetan prisoners in Lhasa on Monday. The report said four trucks in a convoy carried 40 people, mostly young men and women, with a soldier behind each one holding the prisoner’s head bowed.
Security forces fanned out across western China’s mountain valleys and broad plains to deal with sympathy protests in Tibetan communities in the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan.
At Central Nationalities University in Beijing, an elite school for ethnic minorities, about 200 students held a silent candlelight vigil, sitting down in an outdoor plaza Monday night. “We’re doing this for those who are suffering,” said a young Tibetan student.
Uniformed and plainclothes security kept watch but did not interfere.
Despite the criticism, an increasing number of countries expressed their support for Beijing’s role as host of the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said any effort to boycott the Olympics would be “unacceptable.” It also expressed hope that China’s government “will take all necessary measures to stop illegal actions” in Tibet.
The head of the European Olympic Committees also opposed a boycott, saying sports should not be linked to politics.
“Under no circumstance will we support the boycott. We are 100 percent unanimous,” Patrick Hickey said. “Not one government leader has called for a boycott. A boycott is only a punishment of the athletes.”
Australia’s Olympic Committee, backed by the country’s foreign minister, agreed.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again urged China to exercise restraint and said Beijing should find a way to work with the Dalai Lama.