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China accuses Dalai Lama of taking Olympics "hostage"

BEIJING (Reuters) - China accused the Dalai Lama on Sunday of using unrest in Tibet to back demands for Tibetan independence ahead of the August Olympic Games in Beijing.

The verbal attack on the exiled Tibetan leader, accused on Saturday of colluding with Muslim Uighur separatists in China’s western Xinjiang region, was part of an intense propaganda and security drive to stifle anti-Chinese unrest before the Games.

Unrest in Tibet began when Buddhist monks demonstrated in the capital, Lhasa, on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and on subsequent days.

Five days later anti-Chinese rioting shook the city. Chinese authorities said one policeman and 18 civilians were killed.

Anti-government protests then flared in nearby provinces with large ethnic Tibetan populations, leading to violence in which several people were killed and many injured.

In Sichuan, Gansu and other troubled provinces troops continued conspicuously patrolling the streets of Tibetan towns, and kept schools and Buddhist monasteries under tight guard.

The official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday that 94 people had been injured in Tibetan areas in Gansu, almost all of them police.

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The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has in recent days criticized the violence and said he wants talks with China to negotiate autonomy, but not independence, for his homeland.

But the government is intensifying propaganda telling its citizens and the rest of the world that the Dalai Lama, not failings in government policy, caused the trouble in Tibet and accusing him of wanting to ruin the Beijing Olympic Games.

“We must ... win the final victory in all respects against the secessionist forces to help ensure a successful Olympic Games with a stable social situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” Xinhua quoted Tibet’s governor, Qiangba Puncog, as saying.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, said on Sunday that the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, had never abandoned violence after fleeing China in 1959 following a failed revolt against Beijing.

“The so-called ‘peaceful non-violence’ of the Dalai clique is an outright lie from start to end,” the paper said. “... The Dalai Lama is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence.”

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Beijing’s efforts to isolate the Dalai Lama could become a sticking point with Taiwan’s President-elect Ma Ying-jeou, who said the exiled leader would be welcome on the disputed island, and that an Olympic boycott was possible.

China calls Taiwan a breakaway province that must accept reunification.

“The Dalai Lama, if he wants to visit Taiwan, he’d be more than welcome,” Ma told a news conference in Taipei on Sunday, a day after his landslide election win.

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“If the situation in Tibet worsens, we would consider the possibility of not sending athletes to the Games,” said Ma -- who wants closer economic ties and political dialogue with China.

On Saturday the Peoples Daily accused the Dalai Lama of planning attacks with the aid of violent Uighur separatist groups seeking an independent East Turkestan for their largely Muslim people in Xinjiang.

Up to now, most of the ferocious criticism of the Dalai Lama came from the official press in Tibet but others are joining in.

“Tibet is an inseparable part of China. In the history of the world there has never been a country or a government that has ever recognized Tibetan independence,” Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was quoted by Xinhua as saying on Sunday.

The 86-year-old is a vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body to parliament. He represented Tibet in 1951, signing the surrender agreement with Beijing a year after Chinese troops took control of Tibet for the Communist winners of China’s civil war.

China’s denunciations of the Dalai Lama have drawn applause from many Han Chinese citizens, who have said Western critics fail to appreciate their government’s efforts to develop Tibet.

But the campaign has begun to draw some domestic critics.

On Saturday, a group of 29 Chinese dissidents urged Beijing to end the bitter propaganda, allow United Nations investigators into Tibet, and open direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

Troops have choked off much travel in Tibetan areas and blocked access by foreign reporters, and officials have said they are also guarding against unrest in Xinjiang.

Additional reporting by David Gray in Kangding, China; Ralph Jennings in Taipei; and Lindsay Beck and Kirby Chien in Beijing; editing by Tim Pearce