- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

BEIJING — Protests spread from Tibet into three neighboring provinces yesterday as Tibetans defied a Chinese government crackdown, while the Dalai Lama decried what he called the “cultural genocide” taking place in his homeland.

Meanwhile, activists rallied outside the Chinese Consulate in New York yesterday and scuffles broke out in front of China’s Paris embassy during one of several protests in Europe.

The Chinese demonstrations widened to Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces, forcing authorities to mobilize security forces across a broad expanse of western China.

In Tongren, China, riot police sent to prevent protests set off tensions when they took up positions outside a monastery. Dozens of monks, defying a directive not to gather in groups, marched to a hill where they set off fireworks and burned incense in what one monk said was a protest.

In a sign that authorities were preparing for trouble, the Associated Press and other foreign journalists were ordered out of the Tibetan parts of Gansu and Qinghai provinces.

Meanwhile, police in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, searched buildings as a Monday deadline loomed for people who took part in a violent anti-Chinese uprising last week to surrender or face severe punishment.

Earlier today, China denied using lethal force to quell violent protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, saying security personnel did not fire any gunshots and the military was only involved later.

“Throughout the process, [security forces] did not carry or use any lethal weapons,” the chairman of Tibet’s government, Qiangba Puncog, said at a press conference to discuss the days of protests against China’s rule of Tibet.

“I can tell you as a responsible official that guns were absolutely not fired. The PLA was not involved at all in dealing with incident,” he said, referring to China’s People’s Liberation Army.

He added that the PLA was only involved after the riots had taken place to clean up the city and help maintain order.

He said that 13 civilians were killed and dozens were wounded in violence that broke out in Lhasa on Friday, raising an earlier toll of 10 dead reported by state media.

Speaking from India, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans, called for an international investigation into China’s crackdown on demonstrators in Lhasa. His exiled government yesterday put the death toll in Lhasa at 80.

“Please, investigate by yourself,” he said in footage of the conference broadcast on the Internet. “If possible, some respected international organization can find out what the situation is in Tibet and what [are] the causes” of the violence, he said.

“Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place,” the Dalai Lama said, referring to an influx of Chinese migration into Tibetan areas and restrictions on Buddhist practices.

The Chinese government attempted to control what the public saw and heard about protests that erupted Friday. Access to YouTube.com, usually readily available in China, was blocked after videos appeared on the site Saturday showing foreign news reports about the Lhasa demonstrations, montages of photos and scenes from Tibet-related protests abroad.

Television news reports by CNN and the BBC were periodically cut during the day, and the screens went black during a live speech by the Dalai Lama carried on the networks.

Tensions also boiled over outside the county seat of Aba in Sichuan province when armed police tried to stop Tibetan monks from protesting, a witness said.

The witness said a policeman had been killed and three or four police vans had been set on fire. Eight bodies were brought to a nearby monastery while others reported that up to 30 protesters had been shot, said activist groups the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy and the London-based Free Tibet Campaign. The claims could not be confirmed.

Yesterday’s demonstrations follow nearly a week of protests in Lhasa that escalated into violence Friday, with Tibetans attacking Chinese and torching their shops, in the longest and fiercest challenge to Chinese rule in nearly two decades.

The spreading protests fall two weeks before China’s celebrations for the Beijing Olympics kick off with the start of the torch relay, which will pass through Tibet.

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, expressed concern yesterday about a Chinese government crackdown in Tibet and neighboring provinces that is the latest bad publicity for the Asian giant ahead of the Olympics, which are to take place Aug. 8 to 24.

“We are very concerned,” Mr. Rogge told reporters during a one-day visit to St. Lucia. “The IOC hopes that there can be an appeasement as soon as possible to this situation, and I also want to offer our condolences to the relatives of the people who lost their lives.”

On Saturday, Mr. Rogge flatly rejected the idea of boycotting the Summer Games in Beijing over the violence in China, saying it would only penalize athletes. He has declined to say whether the committee would change its stance if the fierce crackdown continues.

Though many were small in scale, the widening Tibetan protests are forcing Beijing to pursue suppression while on the run, from town to town and province to province across its vast western region. Yesterday’s lockdown in Tongren required police imported from other towns, the locals said.

In New York, several hundred Tibetan activists rallied in protest outside the Chinese consulate yesterday.

Chanting “Free Tibet Now” and “Shame, Shame, China Shame,” the mostly Tibetan protesters called for an end to the violence and for countries to boycott the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

Police in riot gear and about a dozen mounted officers were on hand after protesters earlier threw rocks at the consulate, police said. Several glass bricks and panels in the consulate wall were shattered, leaving broken glass littering one sidewalk. Two protesters had been arrested for public order offenses, police said.

One demonstrator, 32-year-old Dhondup Tseten, had traveled from Washington to join the protest.

“Stop killing innocent Tibetans,” he pleaded. “We Tibetans, wherever we are, we are going to support our leader, his holiness” the Dalai Lama.

The New York demonstration came as protesters also rallied in several European cities including Paris, where scuffles broke out in front of China’s embassy during a demonstration of about 500 protesters.

French riot police used tear gas to disperse members of the crowd, but there were no serious injuries. About 10 protesters were taken away.

At one point, a demonstrator climbed onto the first floor balcony of the embassy to take down the Chinese flag and replace it with the Tibetan one.

Shaun Waterman of United Press International contributed to this report from Washington.

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