HT Image
HT Image

China vows to protect territorial right over Tibet

The deadline for anti-Chinese protesters to turn themselves in and receive leniency passes with no apparent surrenders or arrests.
AP | By HT Correspondent, Beijing
UPDATED ON MAR 18, 2008 05:13 AM IST

China said on Monday it would fight to protect its territorial right over Tibet as a deadline for anti-Chinese protesters to turn themselves in and receive leniency passed with no apparent surrenders or arrests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao blamed last week's violence in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, on supporters of Tibetans' spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Liu accused Tibetan activists of attacking China's embassies around the world. "I'd like to reiterate that the Chinese government will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Liu said at a hastily called news conference. "The violent acts have demonstrated the true nature of the Dalai clique."

Liu said attacks had been launched on Chinese embassies and consulates in the US and Europe, with protesters breaking through police cordons and hurling stones to smash doors and windows. German police said 25 Tibetan demonstrators were detained on Monday after trying to force their way into the Chinese consulate in Munich.

There were also clashes outside Chinese diplomatic posts in New Delhi, Paris, New York and Washington in recent days. Sympathy protests have spilled into neighboring provinces outside Lhasa and even reached China's capital, Beijing, where students staged a sit-down demonstration Monday.

Liu emphasized that the violence would not harm Beijing's hosting of the Olympics.

"I think they made the wrong calculation of their situation," he said. "We will continue our great efforts in making the Olympic games a great success. We are proud we're going to host the Olympic games and we are determined to make the Olympic games a success." The comments were the central government's first since Tibetan protests against Chinese rule began on March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in the region that sent the Dalai Lama and much of the leading Buddhist clergy into exile. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before Communist troops entered in 1950.

Champa Phuntsok, Tibet's China-appointed governor, said on Monday that the death toll had risen to 16 and that dozens were injured. The Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan government in India has said 80 Tibetans were killed, a claim Champa Phuntsok denied. New shows of support for the Lhasa protests gathered steam on Monday in the neighboring provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, as well as in Beijing, where some 200 university students held a candlelight vigil.

Champa Phuntsok denounced the Lhasa protesters as criminals and vowed severe punishment if they did not surrender by midnight on Monday.

"If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law," he told reporters at a news briefing. Otherwise, he added, "we will deal with them harshly."

The announcement triggered tensions in the Tibetan capital, where armed checkpoints were widespread. Residents worried about a possible military sweep after the deadline, said the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. A woman who answered the telephone at the Lhasa Public Security Bureau after midnight refused to answer any questions. A man at Lhasa's government office did not speak Mandarin Chinese and hung up.

Because of China's firm control of information in the region, it was difficult to gather and verify information about the protests, the biggest and fiercest in almost two decades.

Lhasa residents said Monday that military police had set up widespread checkpoints as people returned to the streets. "All across the city today there are checkpoints where you can only enter if you have a permit," said Marion Berjeret, an intern for a French fashion design company, who had been living in Lhasa for four months as part of her studies.

She said foreigners including herself had been moved to the capital's outskirts where the situation was less tense. Police were also doing "door-to-door searches and just going in and ripping apart and looking for insurgents" as of Sunday, said Susan Wetmore, a Canadian who arrived by plane in Chengdu in neighboring Sichuan province on Monday.

She said there were at least 10 checkpoints from the heart of the city to the airport about 90 kilometers (55 miles) away. The Times of London newspaper said on its online edition that authorities paraded handcuffed Tibetan prisoners in Lhasa on Monday. The report said four trucks in a convoy drove through the city with 40 people, mostly young Tibetan men and women, standing in the back, their wrists handcuffed and a soldier behind each one holding the prisoner's head bowed. The report could not be independently confirmed.

While Lhasa was still swarming with troops, more security forces mobilized across western China's mountain valleys and broad plains to deal with sympathy protests in Tibetan communities in the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan.

In Gansu's Maqu county, which borders Sichuan, thousands of monks and ordinary Tibetans clashed with police on Monday in various locations, police and a Tibet rights group said.

"We have nothing to protect ourselves and we can't fight back," said an officer at the county police headquarters who refused to give his name or other details. He said about 10 police were injured.

In the city of Lanzhou about 500 Tibetan students who gathered Sunday on the Northwest Minorities University's soccer field abandoned an overnight vigil. Fifty tried to march into the city but were blocked by security forces from leaving the campus, said the London-based Free Tibet Campaign.

A witness in Sichuan said troops moved into Ma'erkang county, next to an area where clashes between monks and police broke out on Sunday with unconfirmed reports that as many as seven were killed. At Central Nationalities University in Beijing, an elite school for ethnic minorities, about 200 students held a silent candlelight vigil, sitting down in an outdoor plaza on Monday night. "We're doing this for those who are suffering," said a young Tibetan student.

Uniformed and plainclothes security kept watch but did not interfere with the vigil. Foreign journalists were prevented from taking photos and told to leave.

Beijing also began to tighten its already firm hold on information. Officials expelled foreign reporters from Tibetan areas in Qinghai and Gansu provinces, contravening regulations that opened most of China to foreign media for the Olympics.

Some of the few independent media remaining in Lhasa were also ordered out, making it difficult to verify casualties and other details.

But as the pockets of dissent grew, an increasing number of Western countries expressed their support for Beijing's actions and its role as the host of the August 8-24 Summer Olympics. Russia said it hopes China's government "will take all necessary measures to stop illegal actions and provide for the swiftest possible normalization of the situation." The Foreign Ministry also said that any efforts to boycott the Beijing Olympics were "unacceptable."

European Union nations and Olympic committees echoed opposition to a boycott of the Beijing Games, saying sports should not be linked to politics.

"Under no circumstance will we support the boycott. We are 100 percent unanimous," Patrick Hickey, head of the European Olympic Committees, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Not one government leader has called for a boycott. A boycott is only a punishment of the athletes."

Australia's Olympic Committee, backed by the country's foreign minister, voiced a similar opinion.

Story Saved