China ups Tibet death toll, fears unrest may spread

China said 19 people were killed in riots in the Tibetan capital last week and official media warned against the unrest spreading to the north-west region of Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims bridle under Chinese control.

Eighteen were burnt or hacked to death in the Lhasa violence, Xinhua news agency said.

The rising toll comes amid mounting international concern over China’s handling of the protests, overshadowing the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in August that the host hopes will be a celebration of its arrival as a world power.

Xinhua said 18 civilians and a policeman died in Lhasa. A total of 382 people were wounded, 58 seriously. Arsonists set fire to 908 shops, 84 vehicles, seven schools and 120 homes, the agency said.

Lhasa police issued a ”most wanted” list of 21 suspects and posted their pictures on the internet.

Exiled Tibetans claim as many as 100 have died in the protests which spilled over this week into neighbouring ethnic-Tibetan areas. Army helicopters flew over the town of Kangding in the west of Sichuan province. In a village to the north-west, witnesses said in trouble this week, anyone looking Han Chinese or ”different” were being beaten up.

‘Split the motherland’

The official media of the north-west region of Xinjiang warned against outbreaks of unrest there inspired by Tibetan protests.

”No matter whether it’s Tibetan independence, Xinjiang independence or Taiwanese independence, their goal is all the same — to create chaos and split the motherland,” said a commentary on the official Xinjiang news website.

”China and Beijing’s holding of the Olympic Games in 2008 has led separatists at home and abroad to believe they have a golden opportunity. To put it bluntly, if they don’t wreck things, they won’t feel comfortable, because they won’t have achieved their goal of spoiling China’s image.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed Beijing to be more open and let the rest of the world see for itself what is happening in Tibet.

”China is only hurting itself by preventing foreign observers from seeing what is going on,” he told the Bild newspaper.

Beijing has poured troops into the region but is barring foreigners from entering Tibet and some neighbouring ethnic-Tibetan areas.

United States presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain have both criticised China over the issue with McCain saying it was ”not acceptable conduct from a world power”.

Chinese officials are adamant that the discontent in Tibet, which Communist troops marched into in 1950, is being driven by the ”Dalai clique” of exiled Tibetans intent on independence and the official media has stepped up criticism of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

‘Confession’

The Beijing Times said pro-Tibet independence elements had attacked 17 Chinese embassies or consulates in the United States, Europe, Australia and India since the monk-led protests.

The attacks occurred almost simultaneously, an ”obvious” sign they were planned and organised by the Dalai clique, it quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao as saying.

The overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, said the aim was ”to cause trouble” for the Olympics.

The Tibet Daily carried what it said was a confession from a rioter who had repented and been released.

”The Lhasa public security organs have already released some people who participated in the March 14 fighting, smashing, looting and arson incident. They are extremely grateful for the party and government’s lenient policy,” it said.

The English-language China Daily dedicated its front page to a report and graphic illustrating what it said was inaccurate or biased reporting in the West which put China in a bad light.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, denies he wants anything more than greater autonomy for his homeland, has criticised the violent protests and offered to come to Beijing for talks with Chinese officials. – Reuters

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