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China ramps up security, cautions UK on Dalai Lama

China ramped up security on Thursday to quell a Tibetan uprising as it expressed concern over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s planned meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Huge military convoys were seen heading towards Tibet, while a build-up of troops took place in nearby provinces after a week of violent protests against China’s rule of the region, a witness, activist groups and media reports said.

After he had spoken by telephone with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and pressed the premier to end the bloody violence, Brown told the British Parliament he would meet the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.

China responded swiftly to Brown’s statement and said it was ”seriously concerned” about the message such a meeting would send.

”As we have repeatedly pointed out, the Dalai is a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Britain’s heir to the throne, Prince Charles, a regular thorn in China’s side, also said he would meet with the Dalai Lama during the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s visit to London in May, a royal spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, China appeared to be deploying a massive security force to finally quell the protests that have embarrassed the nation’s communist rulers ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.

China has banned foreign journalists from Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, and tried to block them from hot-spot areas in the nearby western provinces of China in an effort to prevent independent reporting.

But more than 400 vehicles were seen heading to Tibet through mountain passes in western China, a BBC reporter said, without specifying his location.

”Over the past two days I’ve seen increasing numbers of troops heading for the Tibetan border, but this is the largest deployment by far,” the report said.

”It seems that China is dramatically increasing its military presence in Tibet just days after the riots in Lhasa.”

Large troop movements took place in south-west China’s Sichuan province, bordering on the Tibetan Autonomous Region and home to several large Tibetan populations, one foreign reporter there said.

Activist groups also said forces had been beefed up across western China.

Sichuan has been home to some of the most violent clashes, with activist groups producing photos that they said showed at least eight people who died when police opened fire into a demonstration on Sunday.

China said on Thursday it had exercised ”massive restraint” in its response to violent protests outside the Tibetan region, making no mention of reports of deadly reprisals against protesters.

The riots broke out following protests in Lhasa last week that marked the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule of the Himalayan region.

”The series of riotous activities were not coincidental, but coordinated and closely linked with the unrest in Lhasa,” said Zhang Yusheng, a spokesperson with the Gansu provincial government, according to Xinhua.

Authorities have arrested 24 people linked to the protests in Lhasa, while 170 people have surrendered to police after Chinese authorities called on protesters to turn themselves in, Xinhua reported.

Activists groups said that hundreds of Tibetans had been arrested in sweeps across areas where protests had broken out, while rights groups said they feared the detainees could face brutal treatment.

Despite the crackdown, anti-Chinese protests have continued to take place the past two days in Gansu and Sichuan, which both have large Tibetan populations, Tibetan campaign groups said.

Chinese travel companies specialising in tours to Tibet said they expected the security lockdown of the Himalayan region to keep foreign travellers out for up to three months.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland after the 1959 uprising, of masterminding the latest unrest, a charge he strongly denies. — AFP



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Peter Harmsen
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