LHASA, China (Reuters) - Fresh unrest in Tibet cannot be ruled out nearly a year after riots in the regional capital Lhasa because Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is determined to foment trouble, Chinese officials said on Tuesday.
March marks the anniversary of protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa and in Tibetan communities across the plateau, and the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into Indian exile.
Cao Bianjiang, deputy mayor of the Himalayan city, said he was focused on fostering growth that would ensure stability, but exiled Tibetans were scared this would make them irrelevant.
“There are some people who do not want to see the peaceful development of Lhasa’s economy,” Cao said, after criticizing the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959, nine years after Chinese troops marched into Tibet.
“So it cannot be entirely avoided that some people continue to cause disturbances,” he told a news conference in the Tibetan regional capital during a government-organized and tightly controlled visit by a small group of foreign reporters.
Days of demonstrations in Lhasa erupted in violence last March when a Tibetan crowd burned shops belonging to Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, killing 19 people.
Thousands of Tibetans were then rounded up across the region. Exiled Tibetan groups say many were beaten and some killed in the crackdown.
Officials pinned the blame on the Dalai Lama, saying he still sought an independent Tibet and hoped the unrest in Lhasa would draw international attention to his cause.
“The biggest challenge for Tibet is the disruption and sabotage of the Dalai Lama and his group. The more chaotic Tibet becomes the better he feels. This is not good for the fundamental interests of the people in Tibet,” said the deputy head of the regional parliament, Nyima Tsering.
The Dalai Lama, who is still revered by many Tibetans, denies the charges. Analysts overseas say the rioters were driven more by frustration at waves of Chinese migrants, restrictions on their culture and their economic exclusion.
The local government had tried to calm tensions and stamp out trouble by searching for those responsible for the March rioting and compensating victims, Cao said.
“We have taken other measures, for example punishing illegal elements. You can’t let these things happen in front of your eyes with no impact,” Cao added.
Some 953 people have been officially detained and 76 convicted over the violence so far, Tsering said, although activists say the number is higher.
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates