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Chinese troops converge in Tibetan areas

The government stepped up its manhunt on Friday for protesters in last week's anti-Chinese riots in Tibet's capital, as thousands of troops converged on foot, in trucks and helicopters.

world Updated: Mar 21, 2008 14:21 IST

The government stepped up its manhunt on Friday for protesters in last week's anti-Chinese riots in Tibet's capital, as thousands of troops converged on foot, in trucks and helicopters in Tibetan areas of western China.

The violence in Lhasa, a stunning show of defiance against 57 years of Chinese rule has sparked sympathy demonstrations in neighboring provinces, prompting Beijing to blanket a huge area with troops and warn tourists and foreign journalists to stay away. China's Communist leadership, embarrassed by the chaos and international criticism of its response, has blamed the unrest on Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters and vigorously defended its reputation as a suitable host for the Beijing Olympics.

On Friday, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, met with the Dalai Lama in India, as photos of 21 men wanted in connection with the Lhasa riots were posted on major Chinese Internet portals.

A resident in Qinghai province, meanwhile, said about 300 troops were in the town of Zeku after monks protested Thursday outside the county government office. The woman, who did not want to give her name in case authorities harassed her, said she did not dare leave her home and could not provide details of the demonstration. "Many ethnic Chinese dare not to go out. Only Tibetans do," she said.
Telephones at Zeku's government and public security bureau rang unanswered.

In the largely Tibetan town of Zhongdian, in the far north of Yunnan province, some 30 armed police with batons marched in the main square as residents went about their daily life. Overnight, another two dozen trucks of riot police had arrived, adding to a presence of about 400 troops. Patrols had also been set up in other nearby towns, including the tourist attraction of Tiger Leaping Gorge.

In Xiahe, a city in Gansu province where there were two days of protests last week, the 50-room Xilin Hotel was "completely occupied by police with guns and batons," said a man who answered the telephone. He did not want to give his name because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"There may be hundreds in our county right now. No tourists are allowed here and we do not feel safe going outside," the man said. He said things had calmed down but vehicles had been patrolling the streets asking Tibetans who had participated in last week's demonstrations to turn themselves in.

Residents in Ganzi county in Sichuan province said they saw troops, trucks and helicopters on patrol.

The massive mobilization of riot police was helping authorities reassert control after the broadest, most sustained protests by Tibetans against Chinese rule in decades. Demonstrations had flared across Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces in support of protests that were started in Lhasa.

Led by Buddhist monks, protests began peacefully early last week but erupted into rioting on March 14, drawing a harsh response from Chinese authorities.

Estimates of the number of dead and injured have varied and are hard to confirm because China is keeping tight control over information. Tibetan exile groups say 99 people were killed _ 80 in Lhasa and 19 in Gansu, while Beijing maintains that 16 died and more than 300 were injured in Lhasa.

The official Xinhua News Agency said on Thursday that police shot and wounded four rioters "in self defense" during violent protests on Sunday in Aba County in Sichuan. It was the first time the government has acknowledged shooting any protesters. The crackdown drew worldwide attention to China's human rights record, threatening to overshadow Beijing's attempts to project an image of unity and prosperity in the lead-up to the August 8-24 Olympics.

Pelosi, one of the fiercest congressional critics of China, called on the international community to denounce Beijing's handling of the anti-government protests in Tibet.

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights," Pelosi said before a crowd of thousands of cheering Tibetans in Dharmsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile.

Pelosi, heading a congressional delegation, was greeted warmly by the Dalai Lama, who draped a gold scarf around her neck. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi blamed the Lhasa riots on the Dalai Lama's supporters. "They attempted to exert pressure on the Chinese government, disturb the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sabotage China's social stability and harmony," Xinhua quoted Yang as saying.
In Lhasa on Friday, residents said police were still patrolling the streets and people were free to go where they wanted as long as they had identity cards.

An employee of the local Coca-Cola distributor said the business was still closed. "Nobody dares to go out," said the man, who didn't give his name for fear of retribution.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Religious Affairs Bureau said the Sera and Drepung monasteries, whose monks launched the initial protests, were still closed. The Jokhang temple, Tibet's most sacred shrine and the heart of Lhasa's old city, was also shuttered, she said.

The photos of the 21 men posted on the Internet appeared to have been taken from videos and security cameras.

The images included a man with a mustache who has been shown on news programs slashing at another man with a foot-long blade. Another suspect wielded what appeared to be a long sword. Authorities were offering rewards and guaranteed the anonymity of tipsters.
The Lhasa Public Security Bureau declined to comment on the photos.