China declares "people's war" to control Tibet

By Benjamin Kang Lim and Chris Buckley

Chinese officials have declared a "people's war" of security and propaganda against support for the Dalai Lama in Tibet after riots racked the regional capital Lhasa, and some sources claimed the turmoil killed dozens.

Residents of the remote city high in the Himalayas said on Sunday that anti-riot troops controlled the streets and were closely checking Tibetan homes after protests and looting shook the heavily Buddhist region.

Two days ago Tibetan protesters, some in Buddhist monks' robes and some yelling pro-independence slogans, trashed shops, attacked banks and government offices and wielded stones and knives against police.

China has said at least 10 "innocent civilians" died, mostly in fires lit by rioters.

But an outside Tibetan source with close ties in Lhasa said that number was far too low. He cited a contact who claimed to have counted many more corpses of people killed in the riots or subsequent crackdown.

"He said there were 67 bodies in one morgue alone," the source told Reuters. "He saw it with his own eyes."

The self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India has said some 30 people were killed in clashes with Chinese authorities. Beijing bans foreign reporters from freely reporting in Tibet, so the conflicting claims cannot be easily checked.

The convulsion of Tibetan anger at the Chinese presence in the region came after days of peaceful protests by monks and was a sharp blow to Beijing's preparations for the Olympic Games in August, when China wants to showcase prosperity and unity.

The monks took to the streets on Monday to mark the 49th anniversary of an earlier uprising.

The protest later spread to Chinese areas inhabited by Tibetans. Xiahe in Gansu province saw hundreds of monks and lay residents march in peaceful defiance, to judge from pictures sent to reporters.

Chinese authorities have now signalled a sweeping campaign to redouble security in the region and attack public support for the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 after that year's failed uprising.

"This grave incident of fighting, wrecking, looting and burning was meticulously planned by reactionary separatist forces here and abroad, and its goal was Tibetan independence," a Saturday meeting of senior regional and security officials announced, according to the official Tibet Daily on Sunday.

"Fight a people's war to oppose separatism and protect stability ... expose and condemn the malicious actions of these forces and expose the hideous face of the Dalai clique to broad daylight."

The meeting was attended by Tibet's hardline Communist Party boss, Zhang Qingli, and senior central government security officials, and it strengthens signs that China has no patience with international calls for a lenient response to the riots.

Authorities have already set an ultimatum to rioters, urging them to hand themselves in to police by Monday midnight and gain possible clemency, or face harsh punishment.

The government has mobilised officially favoured Buddhist monks to denounce the protests and the Dalai Lama, the Tibet Daily reported.

"The Party's policies on religious freedom have been very well observed," one said, according to the paper.

"But monks in a few monasteries don't study the scriptures well ... and coordinate from afar with the Dalai clique."

International pressure has mounted on China to show restraint. Australia, the United States and Europe have urged China to find a peaceful outcome, and Japan has expressed concern.

Lhasa residents contacted by telephone, including some who spoke relatively freely a day or two ago, were frightened and reluctant to say much even anonymously.

"There are police checking our homes and handing out warnings," said a shopkeeper who lives near the old Tibetan part of Lhasa that saw torrid rioting. "Now is not the time to talk."

The Dalai Lama earlier released a statement urging China not to use "brute force" against protests, and his representatives have said the charge that they organised the violent protests was ridiculous.

The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, has said he only wants greater autonomy for Tibet. To the great majority of Buddhist Tibetans, he remains a powerful and venerated figure.

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

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