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Rioters will be dealt with harshly: China

world Updated: Mar 17, 2008 10:02 IST
Chris Buckley
Chris Buckley
Reuters
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Chinese security forces exercised "massive restraint" in their response to riots in Tibet last week, the region's governor said on Monday, but he promised harsh punishment for those involved in the violent unrest.

"I can say with all responsibility we did not use lethal weapons, including opening fire," Qiangba Puncog, the government chief in Tibet, told a news conference in Beijing.

Tibet's government has set a midnight deadline for those who took part in the protests that he said had killed 13 "innocent civilians".

Those who complied and showed remorse would be treated leniently, and possibly punished with "re-education, but others could expect harsher treatment", Qiangba Puncog said.

"Those people who are still active or have committed serious crimes, will be dealt with harshly," he said.

"If these people can provide further information about those involved, then they could be treated more leniently."

Dozens of security personnel were injured after days of protests by Buddhist monks which broadened on Friday into riots involving the general population in which houses and shops were burned and looted.

But Qiangba Puncog said calm was returning to Lhasa after the protests. Exiled representatives of Tibet in Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama fled after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, said 80 were killed in the protests.

"China is a country ruled by law. No country would allow this violence," Qiangba Puncog said.

He also quashed suggestions that the broader unrest was fuelled by a feeling among Tibetans of being marginalised by Han Chinese, whose numbers in the region are growing.

Tibet was "in its best shape ever" in terms of social and economic development, Qiangba Puncog said, adding that a small group he described as lawless resorted to "extreme and radical means".

He said shops in Lhasa had reopened and life was returning to normal but at the same time he said the government had advised foreign media and foreign nationals to stay away. Foreigners require permits to travel to the remote, mountainous region.

Despite the calm in Lhasa, China was facing broader unrest in ethnic Tibetan enclaves across its western provinces, where protests and marches on government buildings have taken place.

(Reporting Chris Buckley, writing by Lindsay Beck; Editing by John Chalmers)