China warns of ‘life and death struggle’

China warned of a ”life and death” struggle with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, as it sought to end a wave of protests in its Tibetan regions with arrests and tightened political control.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has accused the Tibetan spiritual leader of masterminding the protests — which culminated in a riot on Friday in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa — from his base in the Indian town of Dharamsala, where he lives in exile.

”We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life and death struggle with the Dalai clique,” Tibet’s Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, told a teleconference of the region’s government and Party leaders.

”Leaders of the whole country must deeply understand the arduousness, complexity and long-term nature of the struggle,” he said in remarks carried online by the China Tibet News.

Zhang also suggested greater political control in the region.

”We must continue to deepen our nationalist education and practically strengthen the building of political power at the grassroots,” he said.

China’s authorities are keen to stem the violence quickly and regain stability in the remote far-west before August’s Olympic Games in Beijing, which they hope will showcase their country’s prosperity and unity.

The Tibetan unrest adds to the ruling Communist Party’s headaches ahead of the Olympics, including the risk of social instability due to mounting inflation after years of breakneck growth and criticisms of the pollution levels in Beijing.

Some activists overseas have called for the mountainous region to be withdrawn from the Olympic torch relay that starts on Monday.

Press watchdog Reporters sans Frontières urged officials to boycott the Games’ opening ceremony over the ”brutal repression” in Tibet, an idea that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France would consider.

Wen dismissed calls for a boycott, and in Tibet, Zhang repeated Wen’s charge that the protests were aimed at undermining the Games, which open on August 8.

China’s state-run media says 105 people surrendered to police for taking part in the Lhasa protests after authorities set a midnight deadline for rioters to turn themselves in over the violence that the Dalai Lama’s officials believe killed 99.

China, whose Communist troops entered Tibet in 1950 after taking power in Beijing, puts the death toll in Lhasa at 13.

Foreign media are denied access to the area without government permission, making the competing claims difficult to verify. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said it had been informed of 30 incidents in which journalists faced obstructions reporting on the issue from western provinces.

‘Epicentre of lies’

A human rights watchdog called on China to allow independent monitors to have access to detained Tibetans and said the government should publish names of those in custody.

”Only by giving access to independent monitors can China give the world some confidence that detainees are not being tortured or mistreated,” Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Despite reports that Lhasa was returning to normal, with tight security but schools and businesses operating as usual, overseas groups reported continuing protests in ethnic Tibetan towns and villages in western China.

Tibetan monks were being prevented from leaving the region, a Beijing-based Buddhism scholar said.

The Free Tibet Campaign said it had two, independent accounts of a peaceful demonstration in the Gansu province town of Gannan, and the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said there had been unrest in Sichuan province.

Both groups also cited a protest in Bora, near Gannan.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, but a Reuters correspondent in Sichuan said an army camp had been set up en route to the ethnic Tibetan town of Lithang. A resident said Lithang’s monastery was surrounded by troops and that there had been arrests of Tibetans in the area.

The Dalai Lama called for an end to the violence in Tibetan regions on Tuesday, and said he would step down as the head of Tibet’s exiled state if that would stop the bloodshed.

But China’s official media called Dharamsala an ”epicentre of lies”, repeating Wen’s assertion that the unrest was ”organised, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique”.

”The Dalai clique maintained real-time contacts, sources say, through varied channels with the rioters in Lhasa, and dictated instructions to his hard core devotees and synchronised their moves,” the state news agency Xinhua reported.

The Dalai Lama says the rioting, which followed several days of peaceful marches by Tibet’s Buddhist clergy, was spontaneous. – Reuters

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Lindsay Beck
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