/ 19 March 2008

China claims rioters surrender

China warned of a ”life and death” struggle with the Dalai Lama’s supporters today, as it sought to underscore its control of Tibet by claiming that over 100 rioters had surrendered to police.

Officials had promised ”leniency” for anyone who handed themselves in before midnight on Monday, and warned that others would face harsh punishment.

But this morning’s announcement by the regional government was the first acknowledgment that protesters were in custody.

In a separate report, the official Tibet Daily website said 94 people had surrendered in Phenpo Lhundrub county on Lhasa’s outskirts.

The Guardian was unable to determine whether these were included in the overall total as officials did not answer repeated phone calls.

Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters on Tuesday that life was ”basically” returning to normal in Lhasa, where peaceful protests by Tibetans degenerated into violent attacks on Han Chinese and Hui Muslim individuals and properties last Friday.

But according to official media, Tibet’s Communist party secretary, Zhang Qingli, told the regional government and senior cadres: ”We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life and death struggle with the Dalai clique.”

Zhang added: ”The Dalai [Lama] is a wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast.”

The Dalai Lama has dismissed China’s claims that he incited the violence and has pledged to resign if the protests get out of control.

So far the authorities have given no indication of how they will deal with those in custody. Nor have they disclosed whether anyone has been arrested.

Witnesses have reported house-to-house searches by paramilitary police in Lhasa and there are claims of mass arrests.

Baema Chilain, vice-chairperson of the regional government, said the people who handed themselves in had been directly involved in the riots last Friday, adding that some had turned in money they looted.

According to Xinhua, the official state news agency, a 25-year-old villager called Doje Cering said he was drunk when the unrest began and ”just blindly followed” the crowd, smashing up vehicles with stones.

It also quoted a 53-year-old man named Gyaincain — many Tibetans use a single name — saying: ”I was very disturbed by what I did. My family has persuaded me to give in to police.”

But Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said it was not clear if those in custody had surrendered voluntarily.

She said: ”Claims of leniency are hard to believe, given what we know of the treatment in custody of people previously — particularly anyone who has challenged the government publicly. The greater problem is that there is no way to verify what the government is saying.”

Officials attacked the foreign media for ”outrageous and ill motivated” coverage of the unrest, while continuing to remove or exclude journalists from Tibetan areas.

Raidi, a former vice-chairperson of the National People’s Congress and one of the few Tibetans to rise through the Communist power structure, told the Xinhua news agency: ”Some Western media purposely distorted the facts and viciously described a severe crime as a peaceful demonstration, so as to slander our legitimate efforts to keeping social stability as violent crackdown.” – guardian.co.uk Â