China says Olympic torch will still go to Mt. Everest


Soldiers and police tightened their hold on Tibetan areas today in a clampdown on scattered protests against the Beijing government, which insisted that the unrest would not deter plans to take the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest.

Foreigners were banned from entering ethnic Tibetan areas. Journalists were escorted away and told to fly out of one potential trouble spot in Sichuan province, which neighbors Tibet.

State media reported that more than 100 people had surrendered to police in and around Tibet's regional capital of Lhasa, where peaceful protests against Chinese rule turned violent Friday.

The government says 16 people were killed and at least 300 buildings torched in the Lhasa rioting. It denies claims by overseas Tibetan groups that 80 people were killed.

Protests and unrest then spread into neighboring provinces, where more than half of China's 5.4 million Tibetans live.

Chinese officials launched new broadsides at the Dalai Lama today, describing Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader as a "wolf" and "devil." They have accused the Dalai Lama and his supporters of organizing the violent clashes in hopes of sabotaging this summer's Beijing Olympics and promoting Tibetan independence.

In the Indian seat of his government-in-exile, the Dalai Lama asked five groups of Tibetan activists to end a confrontational march to Lhasa, expressing fears about the marchers clashing with Chinese troops at the border.

Police and soldiers set up checkpoints across a wide swath of western China and officers turned back an Associated Press photographer traveling west from Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu near the famed Wolong panda preserve.

Officers were also seen pulling Tibetans in traditional costume off buses leaving Tibetan regions, searching their luggage and questioning them. It was not clear whether they were allowed to continue their journeys.

Officers said an order was issued Monday barring foreigners from all Tibetan areas in the province for 10 days. China imposed a ban on tour groups traveling to Tibet last week, dealing a blow to the region's fast-growing tourism industry.

An official with the Sichuan Foreign Affairs Department said no official notice had been issued, but said she had heard of two cases of police turning reporters away.

"I wouldn't suggest trying again," said the woman, who like many Chinese government workers, gave only her surname, Yuan.

A hotel receptionist in Aba prefecture in northern Sichuan province said she heard gunshots on Tuesday as Tibetans poured into the streets. Overseas pro-Tibetan groups said a dozen or more people were killed by troops in the are on Sunday, claims that could not immediately be verified.

The woman, who refused to give her name for fear of retribution by authorities, said the area had since been sealed off under a curfew and residents ordered to stay inside.

In an echo of tactics applied earlier in Lhasa, police in Aba were driving through town broadcasting calls for protesters to surrender, promising them leniency if they did, the London-based Free Tibet Campaign reported. Authorities were also offering rewards for weapons turned in, it said, citing local monks and other sources.

The Tibet Center for Human Rights and Democracy said thousands of Tibetans flooded the streets of Seda, in Sichuan province, on Tuesday.

Activist groups also circulated graphic photographs of protesters who they said were massacred Sunday by Chinese police at Kirti monastery in Aba, known as Ngawa in Tibetan. The images showed several men who were apparently shot and bodies covered in blood. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the photographs.

Lhasa was reportedly calm under a tight security presence that moved in over the weekend.

An employee of the local Coca-Cola bottler, who declined to give his name, said a small demonstration was held in the city on Tuesday, but the protesters fled when troops arrived.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that he was prepared to hold discussions on Tibet with the Dalai Lama.

"The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said &

that he does not support the total independence of Tibet, and that he renounces violence &

that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Brown told British lawmakers.

"If true, certainly we encourage and call on the Chinese to engage directly in discussions with the Dalai Lama and his representatives. It would be a very positive thing," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wen's remarks to Brown did not describe any change in Chinese policy toward the Dalai Lama. China says that it is willing to talk to the Dalai Lama once he renounces independence and recognizes that Tibet and Taiwan are part of China. The communist leadership says the Dalai Lama has not sufficiently shown that he has renounced independence, and officials have pointed to the violence in Lhasa as proof.

Initially led by Buddhist monks, the demonstrations began peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, before spiraling out of control.

The protests marked the biggest challenge in almost two decades to Chinese rule in Tibet, which People's Liberation Army forces occupied in 1950 after several decades of effective independence.

"The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast," Tibet's Communist Party chief Zhang Qingli was quoted as telling officials. "We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dali clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy."

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet during the 1959 uprising, has urged his followers to remain peaceful, saying he would resign as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if violence got out of control. The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize has said he favors significant autonomy for Tibet, but not independence.

The protests have focused world attention on China's human rights record ahead of the Olympics, prompting discussion of a possible boycott of the Games' Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

A Chinese Olympic official said Wednesday that the violence would not interrupt plans to take the Olympic torch relay route into Tibet and to the top of Mount Everest.

"The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region will be able ensure the stability of Lhasa and Tibet," Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, said at a news conference.

Olympic committees in other countries have spoken out against a boycott of the games, but some athletes have voiced concern.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Wednesday his country will not boycott the Beijing Olympics over the violence in Tibet. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's new sports representative cautioned against a hasty move to boycott the Olympics.

While the crackdown has spurred outrage and protests overseas, most Chinese appeared to back the government, underscoring the effectiveness of its strategy of catering to nationalism by portraying its critics as traitors and separatists.

Insults, hate-speech and threats directed at Tibetans could be found on many online forums, and overseas groups reported unconfirmed attacks by members of the Chinese public on monks and ordinary Tibetans in Chengdu and other cities.

The government has, meanwhile, tightly controlled reporting on the events, seeking to ensure that its version of events is the only one told.

A woman reached by phone at Lhasa's Religious Affairs Bureau said staff had been told to "tell the media we have nothing to say."

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