- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

China’s prime minister said yesterday that he would still be ready to negotiate directly with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, under the right conditions, even as Beijing struggled to control the worst political violence in the remote region in decades.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told lawmakers in London that his discussions with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao indicated hope for a meeting, despite Beijing’s rhetoric accusing the Dalai Lama of instigating the anti-Chinese demonstrations in the provincial capital of Lhasa and other cities in Tibet.

Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s Communist Party chief, called the clash that began a week ago a “life-or-death struggle with the Dalai Lama clique,” in an editorial in Tibet’s state-owned newspaper.

But Mr. Brown said, “The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said — that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence — that [Mr. Wen] would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama.”

The Dalai Lama, breaking with some Tibetan separatist groups, has called for greater self-rule for Tibet inside China. But direct talks with the Beijing regime have stalled over differences about the size and powers of a Tibetan autonomous region.

Details about the unrest are difficult to ascertain because international reporters have been banned from the region. The government reported that 16 persons have died and more than 170 arrested, while exile groups, citing eyewitness accounts, said as many as 100 people have died.

Chinese security forces rushed to the region reportedly have established a level of control, but the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), which has offices in Washington, said it had received reports of new protests and violence across the Tibetan plateau. The ICT Web site (www.savetibet.org) posted pictures of bodies in the streets of several Tibetan towns.

In one incident, armed police fired into a crowd gathered in the main market square in Kardze in Sichuan province, killing three. The protesters had been chanting slogans in support of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence, according to the ICT.

Chinese officials insist the situation is largely under control. The executive vice president of China’s Olympic Games organizing committee said in Beijing that the clashes had not affected plans to take the Olympic torch through Tibet in advance of the August games in Beijing.

At his exile base in India, the Dalai Lama has called for calm while rejecting Chinese claims that he was behind the violence.

“I believe the demonstrations and protests taking place in Tibet are a spontaneous outburst of public resentment built up by years of repression,” he said.

Chinese officials reacted angrily to Mr. Brown’s announcement that he would meet with the Dalai Lama when the Buddhist spiritual leader visits London in May.

“China is seriously concerned about the [meeting],” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. “The Dalai Lama is a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion.”

The United States, the United Nations and major European powers have called for Chinese restraint in Tibet, but the criticisms are muted — a sign of China’s clout as a veto-wielding Security Council member and as the world’s rising economic superpower.

In his first public comment on the violence, Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the “suffering” in Tibet but did not blame either side.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in an interview on France’s BFM television network, said, “Economically, we depend much more on China than they do on us.”

He added, “When you conduct foreign relations with countries as important as China, obviously, when you make economic decisions, sometimes it’s at the expense of human rights.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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