By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
BEIJING, March 18 -- Premier Wen Jiabao said Tuesday that the recent unrest in Tibet was instigated by the exiled Dalai Lama and proved for all the world to see that his claims of seeking peaceful dialogue with China "are nothing but lies."
Wen, in China's first senior-level response to the rioting in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of the country, said the violence Friday in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, was particularly "cruel" and caused great harm to the city and its inhabitants.
He dismissed charges by the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, that China's government is committing cultural genocide by submerging the region's native population under a wave of Han Chinese immigration, and vowed to carry on with economic development in the isolated mountain territory.
"These claims that the Chinese government is engaged in cultural genocide are nothing but lies," Wen declared at a news conference marking the end of China's annual legislative sessions.
Wen spoke out after Chinese police conducted house-to-house searches in Lhasa Monday and rounded up hundreds of people suspected of participating in a deadly outburst of anti-Chinese violence, exile groups and residents reported.
The large-scale arrests and official promises of tough reprisals suggested the Chinese government had decided to move decisively to crush the protests, despite calls for restraint from abroad and warnings that heavy-handed repression could taint this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.
Compounding official fears of unrest, about 100 students held a candlelight vigil at a Beijing university Monday -- a peaceful affair that was remarkable by virtue of its being held in the capital.
The Tibetan regional governor, Champa Phuntsok, said detainees who showed remorse and informed on others involved in the week-long uprising would be rewarded with better treatment. But he told reporters in Beijing that Buddhist monks and other Tibetans who participated in Friday's torching of Chinese-owned shops and attacks on Han Chinese businessmen would be "dealt with harshly."
The government had previously given rioters until midnight Monday to turn themselves in. But Urgen Tenzin, executive director of the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, said he was told by telephone that about 600 Tibetans had been arrested before nightfall in a police sweep that lasted most of the day.
One Han Chinese resident contacted by telephone said a squad of policemen had knocked on the door of his home in Lhasa and demanded to see national identity cards and residency permits for everyone inside. A bank officer said police entered his branch in the city's center and required employees to show their national ID cards and respond to questions about their residence and activities.
"We must give them tit for tat and firmly counterattack," said an editorial in the Communist Party's official newspaper in Lhasa, the Tibet Daily, in an indication of the government's intent.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the "government will unwaveringly protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity."
The Bush administration has responded cautiously to China's crackdown. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Monday in Washington that the United States continues to "urge restraint on the part of the Chinese government." He added, though, that the situation was one "that's going to have to be resolved internally between the parties."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an outspoken critic of Chinese human rights abuses, will travel Wednesday to Dharmsala, India, headquarters of the Dalai Lama's exile organization, sources close to the speaker confirmed. Last week she declared, "The violent response by Chinese police forces to peaceful protesters in Tibet is disgraceful. It must be met with strong condemnation by the United States government and the international community."
Phuntsok, a Tibetan who is the territory's second-ranking official under party secretary Zhang Qingli, said 13 people have been killed in violence, raising the previous official death toll by three. They perished during the most violent moments of unrest Friday, when maroon-robed monks and Tibetan youths set fires, looted shops and beat Chinese in an apparent explosion of resentment over economic inequities.
There were no reports of deaths among security forces. But the New China News Agency said 12 were seriously injured -- "like any other innocent victim," the dispatch added -- by rioters hurling stones, lashing out with knives and swinging clubs.
The Dalai Lama's exile organization said Tibetans reported by telephone and Internet that they had seen the bodies of about 80 Tibetans who had been killed in the violence Friday.
The Tibet governor, at a news conference organized by the central government, said regular police and People's Armed Police sent to quell the riots never opened fire with lethal weapons, although according to earlier official accounts tear gas canisters were fired. Residents and tourists reported hearing the sound of occasional gunfire. But video of deployments in the mostly empty streets of Lhasa on Monday showed police without weapons.
With access to Tibet restricted and tight censorship by Chinese authorities, there was no way to assess the accuracy of the competing reports issued by Chinese authorities and exile organizations abroad. Even in areas outside Tibet, it has been difficult to verify developments.
At the Central University for Nationalities, the Beijing school where students held a vigil, dozens of plainclothes and uniformed police barred outsiders from entry. By midnight, the students had been dispersed.
The Communist Party's main newspaper, People's Daily, said Monday that "an extremely small minority" had engaged in arson and vandalism and were being dealt with by authorities. But most public opinion abroad, it reported, was riveted on just-concluded meetings of the National People's Congress and the People's Political Consultative Conference, during which Wen was formally reelected.
Staff writer Jonathan Weisman in Washington contributed to this report.