Sunday, March 16, 2008

BEIJING — Soldiers on foot and in armored carriers swarmed Tibet’s capital yesterday, enforcing a strict curfew a day after protesters burned shops and cars to vent their anger against Chinese rule. In another western city, police clashed with hundreds of Buddhist monks leading a sympathy demonstration.

Foreign tourists were asked to leave Tibet yesterday, and witnesses said Lhasa looked like a ghost city after a day of violent protests Friday. Protesters were given until tomorrow to surrender to authorities or face criminal action.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported at least 10 “innocent civilians” were burned to death Friday. The Dalai Lama’s exiled Tibetan government in India said Chinese authorities killed at least 30 Tibetans, including at least five by shooting, and as many as 100. The figures could not be independently verified. The Tibetan administration denied that the protesters came under fire.

Agence France-Presse reported that the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, would speak to the world today, but observers did not expect the Nobel Peace Prize winner to deviate from his appeals for a nonviolent solution to the future of Tibet.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday urged the Chinese government to “exercise restraint” in responding to protests in Tibet and called for the release of detained monks, Agence France-Presse reported.

Miss Rice said she was “deeply saddened” that Friday’s protests “resulted in the loss of lives” and expressed concern “that the violence appears to be continuing.”

“I also am concerned by reports of a sharply increased police and military presence in and around Lhasa,” she said.

She called on China to “release monks and others who have been detained solely for the peaceful expression of their views.”

“We also urge China to address policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions due to their impact on Tibetan religion, culture and livelihoods,” she said.

The violence erupted two weeks before China’s Summer Olympics celebrations kick off with the start of the torch relay, which passes through Tibet. China is gambling that its crackdown will not draw an international outcry over human rights violations that could lead to boycotts of the Olympics in August.

The unrest began Monday, the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before communist troops entered in 1950.

Buddhist monks set off the protests by demanding the release of detained monks. Their demands spiraled to include cries for Tibet’s independence and turned violent Friday when police tried to stop a group of protesting monks. Pent-up grievances against Chinese rule came to the fore, as Tibetans directed their anger against Chinese and their shops, hotels and other businesses.

It was the fiercest challenge to Beijing’s authority in nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, China’s parliament today re-elected Wen Jiabao as the nation’s prime minister for five more years, Xinhua reported.

In Lhasa yesterday, police manned checkpoints and armored personnel carriers rattled on mostly empty streets as people stayed indoors under a curfew, witnesses said.

Law-enforcement agencies issued a notice offering leniency for demonstrators who surrender before the end of the day tomorrow and threatening severe punishment for those who do not.

Neighborhood committees went door to door distributing the notices, telling locals that defiance would be treated as a criminal act and hinting of rewards if they turned in protesters, said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet specialist at Columbia University who talked with Lhasa residents by phone.

Several witnesses reported hearing occasional bursts of gunfire.

Foreign tourists in Lhasa were told to leave, a hotel manager and travel guide said, and some were turned back at the airport.

Even as Chinese forces appeared to reassert control in Lhasa, a second day of sympathy protests erupted in an important Tibetan town 750 miles away.

In the western province of Gansu, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans after they marched from the historic Labrang monastery and smashed windows in the county police headquarters in Xiahe, witnesses said.

Also yesterday, demonstrations by Tibetan exiles and their supporters erupted in Washington, New York, neighboring Nepal, Switzerland and Australia.

Hundreds of young Tibetans protested in Dharamsala in northern India, home to the Dalai Lama’s “government-in-exile.” Indian police stopped groups of Tibetan refugees trying to march to Tibet.

China has asked Nepal to temporarily bar tourists and mountain climbers from Mount Everest, where protesters might try to cross the border. Yesterday, Agence France-Presse, quoting Nepalese officials, reported that China had deployed security personnel inside Nepal to watch for protests.

International criticism of the crackdown in Tibet has been mild. The United States and European Union called for Chinese restraint without any threats of an Olympic boycott or other sanctions.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said he opposed an Olympic boycott over Tibet.

“We believe that the boycott doesn’t solve anything,” Mr. Rogge told reporters on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. “On the contrary, it is penalizing innocent athletes and it is stopping the organization from something that definitely is worthwhile organizing.”

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