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Tibet tense as Olympic torch heads for Beijing
March 30, 2008 / 2:45 AM / 9 years ago

Tibet tense as Olympic torch heads for Beijing

<p>Chinese riot police patrol the streets in Lhasa, Tibet March 29, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer</p>

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibet’s capital Lhasa was calm on Sunday following a brief burst of unrest weeks after a bloody uprising against Chinese rule, but in Greece and Nepal flurries of pro-Tibet protest continued.

A small group of activists tried to stop the Olympic flame reaching the Athens stadium where Greece handed it to China, but they were quickly removed by police.

Details of an incident on the streets of Lhasa on Saturday remained unclear. A mobile text message to residents from police said security checks carried out earlier in the day had “frightened citizens” and caused panic in the city centre.

The International Campaign for Tibet and Radio Free Asia quoted witnesses as describing people “running in all directions and shouting”. It was not clear if the security check was in response to a protest or if the check itself caused the panic.

“Severely battle any creation or any spreading of rumors that would upset or frighten people or cause social disorder or illegal criminal behavior that could damage social stability,” read the text message, reprinted by the Free Tibet Campaign and International Campaign for Tibet.

Beijing is preparing to receive the Olympic flame on Monday, for the start of a domestic and international relay China’s government had hoped would symbolize national unity ahead of Games in August.

Instead, China finds itself trying to deflect criticism over its policies in Tibet and its response to unrest there, and could face the prospect of weeks of protests as the Olympic flame circles the globe.

In Nepal, home to more than 20,000 Tibetans, police scuffled with Tibetan protesters, who have marched almost daily since mid-March, and detained at least 113.

DALAI LAMA

Tibet’s anti-Chinese unrest began with days of peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in Lhasa which was followed by a citywide riot on March 14, and outbreaks of protest in other parts of China inhabited by ethnic Tibetans.

The Chinese government says Tibetan rioters killed 18 civilians in violence masterminded by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile say some 140 people have been killed in the unrest, most of them Tibetans killed by Chinese security forces. He denies he is behind the unrest.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency released on Sunday what it said was evidence given by a suspect detained over the Lhasa violence that showed the Dalai Lama was behind the unrest.

The Xinhua report said a meeting of the government-in-exile on the day of the riot had taken a decision to ask monks across China to demonstrate and to involve lay Tibetans, and plotted the launch of continuous protests by stages in Tibetan areas.

In a sign of the importance of the issue to the fragile relations between India, which plays host to the Dalai Lama, and its giant neighbor China, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo phoned India’s National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan.

Dai said he hoped Narayanan could “understand and support China’s actions” in Tibet, and the Narayanan responded that his country does not support independence for the region and or allow anti-Chinese political activities on its soil.

Speaking in Laos, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called the Lhasa unrest “violent and criminal”, but said stability had returned.

“The Chinese government has the ability to solve this matter,” Wen told Hong Kong reporters.

In Sichuan province’s Aba county, where police opened fire on protesters earlier this month, 26 suspects have been detained for their involvement, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Police seized guns, bullets, explosives and knives in Aba’s Kirti monastery, as well as Tibetan flags and banners advocating independence for Tibet, it said.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, based in India, gave a different account, saying more than 100 monks from the Kirti monastery had been detained and that police raided rooms. It made no mention of weapons. The centre said 23 Tibetans had been killed in the March 15 violence.

PARAMILITARY POLICE MAN CHECKPOINTS

In Gansu province, whose southern, heavily Tibetan areas have seen widespread unrest, authorities posted notices on walls urging protesters to give themselves up.

The paramilitary People’s Armed Police manned checkpoints in the region, armed with riot shields and clubs and rifles with bayonets.

U.S. President George W. Bush has urged China to exercise restraint in its response to the unrest and to meet representatives of the Dalai Lama, against whom Chinese state media has been waging an intense propaganda campaign.

“Dealing with such a person, who can blow hot and cold, the Chinese government has shown the greatest patience,” Xinhua said in a commentary on Sunday. “It was the Dalai Lama clique that closed the door of dialogue,” it said.

A meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Saturday urged dialogue on Tibet’s religious and cultural rights. But in a joint text, the bloc avoided reference to the Beijing Games, after a week of public differences over whether to boycott the opening ceremony.

Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Gansu, Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong and Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; editing by Andrew Roche

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