March 20, 2008 / 12:29 AM / 11 years ago

China says its police shot Tibetan protesters

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police shot and wounded four protesters this week in an ethnic Tibetan community in the province of Sichuan, Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

Television footage shows arrested protesters standing in line at an unknown location March 20, 2008. The prosecutor's office in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, said 24 people faced charges of "endangering national security as well as beating, smashing, looting, arson and other grave crimes" in last Friday's (March 14) riots, the Tibet Daily reported. REUTERS/Tibet TV via Reuters TV.

Citing police sources, the state-run agency said police acted in self-defense when they opened fire on Sunday. It is China’s first admission its security forces have caused injuries in their crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

Chinese authorities also said they had arrested dozens of people involved in the protests that have swept Tibet and prompted Beijing to pour in troops to crush further unrest.

China’s response to last week’s violence — which it says was orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader — has sparked international criticism and clouded preparations for the Beijing Olympics in August.

In a phone call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China to show restraint towards protesters.

“We have urged for many years that China engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who represents an authoritative figure who stands against violence and who also stands for the cultural autonomy of the Tibetan people but has made very clear that he does not stand for independence,” she added.

China says 13 “innocent civilians” died in riots last week in Tibet’s capital Lhasa, after days of peaceful protests led by monks. Exiled Tibetans say as many as 100 Tibetans have died.

Mindful of the international condemnation of its military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, China says its security forces in Lhasa exercised “maximum restraint” and did not use lethal weapons.

But the Xinhua report makes clear the same did not apply in other parts of western China, where it has been sealing Tibetan areas from foreigners and tightening security.

State television broadcast on Thursday pictures of protests in Sichuan and Gansu provinces, both home to Tibetan communities, which showed men on horseback shouting Tibet independence slogans, burning cars and raising the Tibetan flag.

The report said the situation was now calm and showed pictures of barricades and police in riot gear. In Gansu’s Gannan region, eight police and three government officials were injured in the unrest, it said.

In Kangding, a Tibetan town in Sichuan, roads were crowded with troops who blocked most travel. Notices on walls warned locals not to protest and to stay away from the “Dalai clique”.

ARRESTS

In Lhasa, the prosecutor’s office said 24 people faced charges of “endangering national security as well as beating, smashing, looting, arson and other grave crimes” in Friday’s riots, the Tibet Daily reported.

Some outside groups say hundreds of Tibetans may have been detained, and the China News Service reported that authorities had broadcast pictures of “wanted” suspects.

“The facts of the crimes are clear and the evidence is solid, and they should be severely punished,” a Lhasa deputy chief prosecutor, Xie Yanjun, said.

Xinhua reported that so far more than 170 people involved in the riots had given themselves up.

“Most of the people who surrendered themselves were ordinary members of the public who did not understand the true situation,” it said.

China’s unyielding response to the unrest has brought calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the August 8-24 Games by pro-Tibetan independence groups and some overseas politicians.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said there was no change in U.S. President George W. Bush’s plans to attend the ceremony, and said the spotlight on Beijing could be a good thing.

“That way the Chinese can hear how people feel and then maybe have an opportunity to either explain their position or maybe even change the things that they are doing,” Perino said.

The Olympic torch relay across 19 countries starts next week and is due to enter Tibet. It is likely to be dogged by protest.

“READY FOR TALKS”

A special sitting of the European Parliament is expected to take place next week and many EU lawmakers are calling for some kind of European action over the Olympics, ranging from a snub of the opening ceremony to an outright boycott of the Games.

The Chinese government has resisted international calls for dialogue over the unrest and expressed serious concern that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans to meet the Dalai Lama during a visit to Britain in May.

The Dalai Lama, speaking in his exile home in the Indian town of Dharamsala, said he was ready to travel to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, calling on Tibetans to end the violence.

Beijing has long said it will meet him only if he forsakes claims to Tibet’s independence. The 72-year-old says he just wants greater autonomy for his homeland.

China has struggled to convince the international community that the Nobel Peace Prize winner orchestrated the violence and its own policies are free from blame.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said countries including the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Australia had apologized to China for failing to protect embassies from violent attacks by “Tibet independence elements”. It said 17 diplomatic missions had been violently attacked since March 10.

In Hungary, police detained one person after a window in China’s embassy was broken by a stone hurled during a rally of about 200 people, the state news agency MTI said.

Slideshow (24 Images)

A man in a “vigil for Tibet” near China’s Berlin embassy poured a flammable liquid over himself and set himself on fire on Thursday but other protesters quickly put the flames out.

In San Francisco, officials are investigating a minor fire that charred a roll-up garage door of the Chinese consulate.

Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Jason Subler in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Sichuan, China and Paul Eckert and Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Sandor Peto in Budapest; editing by Andrew Roche

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