/ 18 March 2008

Dalai Lama threatens to resign over violence

The Dalai Lama said on Tuesday he will stand down if violence in Tibet spirals out of control, after the Chinese accused him of masterminding the unrest.

”If things become out of control then my only option is to completely resign,” the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, told a news conference at his base in Dharamsala, northern India.

His comments came after the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, blamed the Dalai Lama for the unrest which he said was designed to wreck the Olympics.

Wen also defended the treatment of protesters in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, who he said ”wanted to incite the sabotage of the Olympic Games in order to achieve their unspeakable goal”.

”There is plenty of evidence proving this incident was organised, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique,” Wen told a news conference, according to Reuters.

He added: ”This has all the more revealed [that] the consistent claims by the Dalai clique that they pursue not independence but peaceful dialogue are nothing but lies.”

On Monday, the Dalai Lama accused the Chinese of ”cultural genocide” against Tibet. But to the frustration of some of his followers, his pacifism is so extreme that he considers even economic sanctions against China as illegitimate.

He has also refused to call for a boycott of the Olympics.

A spokesperson for the Dalai Lama dismissed Wen’s accusation as ”baseless”.

Police officers mass in Lhasa

Meanwhile, thousands of paramilitary police were massing in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas of unrest on Monday night ahead of an ultimatum to protesters to hand themselves in.

Witnesses reported that arrests had begun long before a midnight deadline passed in the capital, and authorities in other provinces were cracking down both on protests and those who report them.

Hong Kong journalists were ordered to leave Lhasa, and foreign reporters have been turned away or ordered to leave Tibetan areas in the Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces in the past two days.

Tibet’s governor, Qiangba Puncog, said protesters who turned themselves in would be ”treated with leniency within the framework of the law … Otherwise, we will deal with them harshly.”

China says 13 ”innocent civilians” were killed in the riots in Lhasa. Shops, cars and government related buildings such as the Bank of China and the Tibetan News offices were gutted by fire.

The expulsions and restrictions of foreigners, and uncorroborated reports of vast convoys of paramilitaries entering areas of unrest, have raised fears that the government has created a ”black box” in which its security personnel can take action without scrutiny.

The government had ordered those in Friday’s violence to hand themselves in by midnight on Monday night. Witnesses reported house-to-house searches in Lhasa during the day, with paramilitaries taking away Tibetans.

The Chinese government has insisted that only armed police are in action, although a source in Lhasa said markings of some military-looking vehicles had been covered, possibly to disguise the fact they belonged to the People’s Liberation Army. There were claims, which the Guardian was unable to confirm, that troops were parading protesters in handcuffs through Lhasa.

Despite the crackdown, there were reports of new protests. Students held candlelit vigils at the Minorities University in Beijing and several other universities around the country.

Hundreds of monks and lay people were said to have taken to the streets again in Machu county, Gansu, with protesters setting fire to shops and the security headquarters. Unrest was also said to have flared again in Aba, Sichuan, where there are claims that police shot between 13 and 30 protesters after a police station was set on fire. Like Tibetan exiles’ claims that at least 80 have died in Lhasa, the reports of deaths are impossible to verify because of the restrictions on journalists.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said staff from at least six TV, radio and print organisations were forcibly removed from Lhasa on Monday after Chinese authorities accused them of ”illegal reporting”. At least a dozen media organisations, including Reuters, al-Jazeera and Sky TV, have been turned away or removed from sensitive areas.

The Guardian drove over a mountain pass, high above the snowline, to try to enter an area where protests have taken place near the border between Sichuan and Gansu province. But there was no getting past the police roadblock near Linxia, on the edge of the Gannan Tibetan autonomous region. All vehicles were stopped and IDs checked. ”There is a police action taking place. Foreigners are not allowed inside. These are the orders of high authority,” an English-speaking officer said.

The Foreign Ministry said restrictions were because of exceptional circumstances. ”When there is some emergency, the local authority has the power to set up prohibited areas for outsiders. This is for the stability and unity of that province and this country,” said an official.

The Free Tibet Campaign said: ”Reports of large convoys coupled with systematic removal of foreign journalists suggest the Chinese authorities are fully intending to launch a crack down.”

The European Union urged the authorities not to use force and called on demonstrators to desist from violence.

Brritish Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s official spokesperson said number 10 was raising the issue with Chinese authorities ”on a daily basis”. – guardian.co.uk Â