Chinese state media said for the first time on Thursday that anti-government riots that rocked Tibet last week have spread to other provinces as the communist authorities announced the first group of arrests for the violence.
The announcements came as the government sent armed police into far-flung towns and villages to reassert control as sporadic demonstrations continued to flare up, and barred any foreigners from traveling there or journalists from reporting.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday on "riots in Tibetan-inhabited areas in the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, both neighboring Tibet." It blamed the protests on supporters of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.
Xinhua said the protests attacked "shops and government offices" on Sunday in Aba country in northwestern Sichuan. It said there were similar protests in five areas of southern Gansu province.
The Xinhua report confirms previous claims by exile Tibet activist groups that the protests had spread. Foreign journalists have been banned from going to Tibet and have found it increasingly difficult to travel to areas in other provinces with Tibetan populations.
The Tibet Daily reported that 24 people had been arrested for endangering state security, and for other "grave crimes" for their roles in last Friday's riots in Lhasa.
"This incident has severely disrupted the social order, harmed people's life and property, and these illegal acts organized, pre-planned, and well-designed by the Dalai clique," Lhasa deputy chief prosecutor Xie Yanjun was quoted as saying. "We have to strike the aggressive criminals on the basis of facts guided by law," he said.
Xinhua said previously that 170 people had surrendered for their role in the Lhasa riots. The violence injured 325 people and China says 16 were killed, denying Tibetan exile groups' claims that 80 died.
The protests have been the biggest challenge in almost two decades to Chinese rule in Tibet, a Himalayan region that the People's Liberation Army occupied in 1950 after several decades of effective independence.
But authorities appeared to be regaining control in Tibet and surrounding provinces where more than half of China's 5.4 million Tibetans live. Moving from town to town, police checked IDs and set up roadblocks to keep Tibetans in and reporters out. On Thursday morning, an Associated Press photographer was turned away from a flight to Zhongdian in Yunnan province. There were 12 policemen, including with automatic weapons at the check-in counter. The police said that no foreigners were allowed to travel to Tibetan areas due to the protests.
The unrest has prompted discussion of a possible boycott of the Aug. 8 opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and calls for China to address Tibetans' grievances and engage in direct talks with the Dalai Lama.
But a top Beijing Olympics official vowed Wednesday that the unrest would not disrupt plans for the torch relay preceding this summer's Olympics in Beijing. One leg of the relay will pass through Tibet, taking the flame to the peak of Mount Everest sometime in May.
"We know the incidents are the last thing we want to see, but we firmly believe that the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region will be able ensure the stability of Lhasa and Tibet, and also be able to ensure the smooth going of the torch relay in Tibet," Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, told reporters.
Many Olympic committees have spoken out against a boycott of the games, but some athletes have voiced concern.