China makes arrests in Tibet crackdown

Tibet authorities said on Thursday they had arrested dozens of people involved in a wave of anti-Chinese violence that has swept the mountain region and prompted Beijing to pour in troops to crush further unrest.

China’s response to last week’s violence — which it says was orchestrated by the exiled Dalai Lama — has sparked international criticism and has clouded preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

The prosecutor’s office in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, said 24 people faced charges of ”endangering national security as well as beating, smashing, looting, arson and other grave crimes” in last Friday’s riots, the Tibet Daily reported.

They were the first arrests since rioting erupted across the remote region. Some outside groups say hundreds of Tibetans may have already been detained, and the China News Service reported Lhasa has broadcast wanted pictures of more suspects.

”The facts of the crimes are clear and the evidence is solid, and they should be severely punished,” a Lhasa deputy chief prosecutor, Xie Yanjun, said.

In a phone call with her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for China to show restraint toward protesters and resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader.

China says it was the Dalai Lama, and his ”Dalai clique” who engineered the violence, a sentiment that resonates with ordinary Chinese.

”I don’t think they would do this without any manipulation by the Dalai Lama or some other organisation … Any normal Tibetans would be happy to live under China’s rule,” said Zhang Ming (25) a Beijing office worker.

Boycott calls

China’s unyielding response to the unrest has brought demands for a boycott of the opening ceremony for the August 8 to 24 Games from pro-Tibetan independence groups and some politicians.

White House spokesperson Dana Perino said there was no change in US President George Bush’s plans to attend the ceremony, and said the spotlight on Beijing could be a good thing.

” … That way the Chinese can hear how people feel and then maybe have an opportunity to either explain their position or maybe even change the things that they are doing,” Perino said.

The Olympic torch relay across 19 countries that starts next week, and which will also pass through Tibet, is also likely to be dogged by protests.

China has poured troops into Tibet and neighbouring provinces that are home to large ethnic Tibetan groups. But it has barred foreigners from the mountain region.

Beijing residents said they were unable to buy tickets for the 48-hour train journey to Lhasa.

In Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in western Sichuan province, next to Tibet, roads were crowded with troops who blocked most travel. Notices on walls warned locals not to protest and to stay away from the ”Dalai clique”.

The Chinese government has resisted some international calls for dialogue over the unrest and expressed serious concern that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans to meet to Dalai Lama during a visit to Britain in May.

”If those acts can be tolerated, is there any law in the world? Is there any justice in the world?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told a news conference when asked to respond to Pope Benedict’s call for dialogue to end the violence.

‘Ready for talks’

The Dalai Lama, speaking in his exile home in the Indian town of Dharamsala, said he was ready to travel to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, calling on Tibetans to end the violence.

Beijing has long said it would meet him only if he forsakes claims to Tibet’s independence. The 72-year-old monk says he just wants greater autonomy for his homeland.

China has struggled to convince the international community that the Nobel Peace Prize winner orchestrated the violence and that its own policies are free from blame.

On Thursday, six fellow Nobel laureates sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, urging restraint in Tibet.

”We call on you to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the men and women of Tibet to address their legitimate concerns and genuine grievances,” the letter said.

China says that 13 innocent civilians died in the Lhasa violence, and at least three rioters. Exiled Tibetan groups have said as many as 100 Tibetans died.

State media on Thursday reported on the anti-Chinese riots in Sichuan and Gansu provinces, which neighbour Tibet, underscoring the bitterness now dividing many Tibetans and Han Chinese.

For the first time on Thursday, state television also broadcast pictures of protests in the two provinces, which showed men on horseback crying out Tibet independence slogans, burning cars and raising the Tibetan flag.

The report said the situation was now calm and showed pictures of barricades and police in riot gear. In Gansu’s Gannan region, eight police and three government officials were injured in the unrest, it said.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that so far more than 170 people involved in the riots have given themselves up.

”Most of the people who surrendered themselves were ordinary members of the public who did not understand the true situation.” – Reuters

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