Escalation of violence in Tibet feared after midnight surrender deadline passes


Tibet's governor denounced anti-Chinese protesters as criminals and threatened harsh consequences for those who do not turn themselves in by a midnight deadline today. More clashes erupted in other Chinese provinces.

The threat by China-appointed governor Champa Phuntsok heightened tensions. The Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said residents feared a military sweep after midnight.

The fiercest protests against Chinese rule of Tibet in almost two decades have attracted more international scrutiny of the communist government's human rights record in the run-up to the Beijing Summer Olympics, which is a great source of pride to China.

Tibet's legal authorities issued the surrender notice to demonstrators on Saturday.

"If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law," said Champa Phuntsok, an ethnic Tibetan. Otherwise "we will deal with them harshly," he added.

He said those who turn themselves in and inform on others will earn even more leniency.

"No country would allow those offenders or criminals to escape the arm of justice and China is no exception," Champa Phuntsok said at news briefing.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, said Sunday that he felt "helpless" in the face of a Chinese ultimatum for protesters to surrender.

"The deadline is at midnight tomorrow. So now every second it goes nearer," the Nobel Peace laureate told reporters at the Himalayan headquarters of Tibet's government-in-exile. "I feel very sad, very serious, very anxious. Cannot do anything."

The unrest in Tibet began March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in the region that sent the Dalai Lama and much of the leading Buddhist clergy into exile. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before Communist troops entered in 1950.

But what began as largely peaceful protests by monks spiraled Friday into a melee with Tibetans attacking Chinese and burning their businesses in the Tibetan capital Lhasa. The outburst came after several years of intensifying government control over Buddhist practices and vilification of the Dalai Lama, whom Tibetans still revere.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated today her call for China to show restraint in fighting the protests and urged Beijing to find a way to engage the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

"There's been a kind of missed opportunity for the Chinese to engage the Dalai Lama," Rice told reporters today. She said the Dalai Lama is a voice of authority, not a separatist, and he could "lend his moral weight" to helping stabilize Tibet.

Champa Phuntsok said the death toll from last week's violent demonstrations in Lhasa was 16 and dozens were injured. The Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan government in India has said that 80 people were killed &

a claim the governor denied.

Over the weekend, Chinese troops on foot and in armored vehicles poured into the streets of Lhasa and enforced a curfew that kept most people off the streets.

Authorities paraded handcuffed Tibetan prisoners in Lhasa today, The Times of London reported on its online edition. The report said four trucks in a convoy drove through the city, with 40 people, mostly young Tibetan men and women, standing in the back, their wrists handcuffed and a soldier behind each one holding the prisoner's head bowed.

Going house-to-house, police checked identity cards and residence permits, detaining any without permission to stay in Lhasa, the Times said.

While Lhasa was still swarming with troops, Chinese troops fanned out to quell sympathy protests that have spread to three neighboring provinces. More forces were mobilizing across western China's mountain valleys and broad plains to deal with protests in Tibetan communities in Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

In Gansu's Maqu county, which borders Sichuan, thousands of monks and ordinary Tibetans clashed with police today in various locations, police and a Tibet rights group said.

"We have nothing to protect ourselves and we can't fight back," said an officer at the county police headquarters who refused to give his name or other details. He said about 10 police were injured.

In the city of Lanzhou, about 500 Tibetan students who gathered Sunday on the Northwest Minorities University's soccer field abandoned an overnight vigil. Fifty tried to march into the city, only to be blocked by security forces from leaving the campus, said the London-based Free Tibet Campaign.

A witness in Sichuan said troops moved into Ma'erkang county, next to an area where clashes between monks and police broke out Sunday with unconfirmed reports that as many as seven were killed.

At Central Nationalities University in Beijing, an elite school for ethnic minorities, 100 students held a silent candlelight vigil, sitting down in an outdoor plaza tonight.

"We're doing this for those who are suffering," said a young Tibetan student.

Uniformed and plainclothes security kept watch but did not interfere with the vigil. Foreign journalists were prevented from taking photos and told to leave.

The government also began to tighten its already firm hold on information. Officials expelled foreign reporters from Tibetan areas in Qinghai and Gansu provinces, contravening regulations that opened most of China to foreign media for the Olympics.

Some of the few independent media remaining in Lhasa were also ordered out, making it difficult to verify casualties and other details.

Police in Lhasa kicked out reporters from three Hong Kong television stations &

Cable TV, TVB and ATV &

and made TVB delete footage of Friday's violence, TVB reported.

There were also more sympathy protests outside China. In Nepal, police used bamboo batons to disperse about 100 Tibetan protesters and Buddhist monks near the main U.N. office in Katmandu today. Some 44 people were arrested.

In the wake of Friday's violence, Beijing ratcheted up the rhetoric against the Dalai Lama, accusing his supporters of masterminding the riot.

"This was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique and it was created under the collusion of Tibet independence separatist forces both inside and outside China," said Champa Phuntsok.

He said three of the 16 people killed Friday in Lhasa were protesters who jumped out of a building to avoid arrest. He called the other 13 "innocent civilians," &

apparently a reference to Chinese killed by demonstrators.

In one case, a person died after being covered in gasoline and then set on fire, he said. In another incident, the protesters "knocked out a police officer on patrol and then they used a knife to cut a piece of flesh from his buttocks the size of a fist," he said.

Champa Phuntsok said calm had been restored to Lhasa. Residents said today that police were patrolling the streets and had sealed off key roads in the downtown area, where the riots occurred, but that conditions were not as tense as over the weekend.

"Today, many people went back to work and some schools are open," said a tour guide. "Prices of food, gasoline and other things are soaring."

Another woman said there was "still a general mood of fear about going out. But it's better than a few days ago." She said a public announcement on a local television station was encouraging people to give themselves up.

Champa Phuntsok said he did not know if anyone had surrendered and police and government officials in Lhasa refused to comment.

In a further sign of China's concern about repairing the situation, Tibet's hard-line Communist Party secretary Zhang Qingli &

the region's most powerful official &

returned to Lhasa over the weekend and met with security forces, the official Tibet Daily newspaper said. Zhang had been attending the national legislature's annual session in Beijing, which ends Tuesday.

The Tibet Daily quoted Zhang as saying security forces "carried out a frontal assault against the thugs" who rioted in Lhasa.

Russia voiced support for the Chinese government over the violence in Tibet, saying it hopes "Chinese authorities will take all necessary measures to stop illegal actions and provide for the swiftest possible normalization of the situation." The Foreign Ministry said any efforts to boycott the Beijing Olympics are "unacceptable."

Olympic officials have also said they oppose any boycott over Tibet.

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