March 22, 2008 / 1:40 AM / 11 years ago

China ups Tibet death toll, fears unrest may spread

KANGDING, China (Reuters) - China said 19 people died in riots in the Tibetan capital last week and official media warned against the unrest spreading to the northwest region of Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims bridle under Chinese control.

A local Tibetan woman holds prayer beads as she stands outside a monastery that has been closed to visitors in the town of Tagong, located 200 kilometres north-west of the city of Kangding in Sichuan Province March 22, 2008. China has been grappling to quell unrest in several Tibetan towns and villages in the country's west, after Buddhist monk-led demonstrations in Tibet's capital Lhasa turned violent last week. REUTERS/David Gray

Eighteen were burnt or hacked to death in the Lhasa violence, Xinhua news agency said. It has repeatedly quoted officials as saying separatists backed by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, engineered the protests.

But China’s handling of the unrest has been met by mounting international concern, overshadowing the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in August the host wants to a celebration of its arrival as a world power.

Xinhua said 18 civilians and a policeman died in Lhasa. A total of 382 people were wounded, 58 seriously in the violence.

Exiled Tibetans claim as many as 100 have died in the protests which spilled over this week into neighboring ethnic-Tibetan areas.

“SPLIT THE MOTHERLAND”

The official media of the northwest region of Xinjiang warned against outbreaks of unrest there inspired by Tibetan protests.

“No matter whether it’s Tibetan independence, Xinjiang independence or Taiwanese independence, their goal is all the same — to create chaos and split the motherland,” said a commentary on the official Xinjiang news Web site (www.tianshannet.com).

“China and Beijing’s holding of the Olympic Games in 2008 has led separatists at home and abroad to believe they have a golden opportunity. To put it bluntly, if they don’t wreck things, they won’t feel comfortable, because they won’t have achieved their goal of spoiling China’s image.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed Beijing to be more open and let the rest of the world see for itself what is happening in Tibet.

“China is only hurting itself by preventing foreign observers from seeing what is going on,” he told the Bild newspaper.

Beijing has poured troops into the region but has barred foreigners from entering Tibet and some neighboring ethnic-Tibetan areas.

A group of 29 Chinese dissidents urged Beijing to open direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama. “We appeal to the country’s leaders to directly engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama. We hope to eliminate misunderstanding between Han and Tibetans,” the group said in an open letter e-mailed to reporters, referring to the majority Han Chinese.

Chinese officials are adamant the discontent in Tibet, into which Communist troops marched in 1950, is being driven by the “Dalai clique” of exiled Tibetans, launching furious criticism against the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

“A handful of separatists ... undermined social stability and harmony in Tibet. I don’t think this criminal action is acceptable,” state television showed a senior Tibetan Buddhist telling maroon-robed monks.

“CONFESSION”

The Tibet Daily carried what it said was a confession from one rioter who had repented and been released.

“The Lhasa public security organs have already released some people who participated in the March 14 fighting, smashing, looting and arson incident. They are extremely grateful for the Party and government’s lenient policy,” it said.

Slideshow (23 Images)

The English-language China Daily dedicated its front page to a report and graphic illustrating what it said was inaccurate or biased reporting in the West which put China in a bad light.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, denies he wants anything more than greater autonomy for his homeland, has criticized the violent protests and offered to come to Beijing for talks with Chinese officials.

Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Nick Macfie

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