Dalai Lama Airs Prospect of Quitting

The Dalai Lama denied Chinese claims he had incited riots and said he would resign as Tibetans' spiritual leader if their violent protests in his homeland spun out of control.
The Dalai Lama denied Chinese claims he had incited riots and said he would resign as Tibetans' spiritual leader if their violent protests in his homeland spun out of control. (By Gurinder Osan -- Associated Press)
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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

DHARMSALA, India, March 18 -- Reacting to a week of sometimes bloody protests in Tibet, the Dalai Lama said Tuesday that he would resign as spiritual head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if the violence spun out of control. At the same time, the revered religious figure vehemently denied Chinese accusations that he was organizing the riots.

"If things become out of control, then my only option is to completely resign," the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate and the exiled leader of millions of Tibetans around the world, told reporters. As he spoke, the narrow, winding streets of this Himalayan town were filled with hundreds of angry youths, monks and nuns, marching and chanting, "Long live Dalai Lama!"

The prime minister of the government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, quickly sought to play down his leader's statement. "I don't think he has said those words without any qualification or context," Rinpoche said at a news conference. "The Dalai Lama has always said, over and over again, that if the Tibetan people resort to violence, he would not be able to lead the people and be their spiritual leader."

"The Tibetan people's commitment to nonviolence remains, and there is no question of his resignation," Rinpoche added.

The Dalai Lama reacted angrily to the statements by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao blaming him for engineering riots in Tibet that have left scores of people dead. The Tibetan leader, who fled China for India in 1959, said that he was open to scrutiny by any international body.

"If you want to start investigating from here, you are most welcome. Check our various offices," he said, adding with characteristic dry humor, "They can examine my pulse, my urine, my stool, everything."

[On Wednesday morning, the Chinese regional government in Tibet said 105 people involved in deadly rioting in Lhasa last Friday had surrendered to police, according to the official New China News Agency. "I was very disturbed by what I did," the agency quoted one man as saying.]

On Tuesday, the streets of Dharmsala resounded all day with the steady chanting of marchers. Maroon-robed monks and nuns carried placards reading "Stop Killing Tibetans" and chanted Buddhist prayers. About 500 students jammed the alleyways, holding up photographs of the rioting in Tibet and shouting "We want justice!" and "We want freedom!"

The parliament of Tibet's government-in-exile has set three objectives for the protests in India: ending alleged Chinese atrocities against Tibetans; getting doctors to the injured and the sick; and obtaining the immediate release of all political prisoners.

But protesters also indicated that they support independence for Tibet. Their rage and despair were palpable as people poured into the streets waving Tibetan flags or wearing them bandanna-style around their heads.

"Our blood is very hot right now," said Dharbon Sharling, 26. "We have waited so many years for China to change its mind. Six rounds of peaceful talks, and we have nothing to show. But now, we are in no mood to spare China."

The challenge of balancing passion and the path of nonviolence was apparent in dozens of interviews with protesters in Dharmsala.

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