‘Life or Death’ for China as It Grapples with Tibet

‘Life or Death’ for China as It Grapples with Tibet

BEIJING, China ~ China said it was in a “life or death struggle” over Tibet this week as dramatic new footage emerged of Tibetans rampaging on horseback and destroying a Chinese flag.

With China deploying a massive security force to quash the uprising and sealing off flashpoint areas from foreign media, activists and a rights group warned hundreds of Tibetans believed arrested could now be at risk of torture.

Activist groups released photos on Tuesday of eight dead Tibetans they said had been killed by Chinese forces at a protest in Sichuan province, saying it was proof of the brutal methods being used to quell the unrest.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama appealed for a resumption of talks with China but Beijing showed no signs of backing down in its campaign to crush opposition to its 57-year rule of the region.

“We are currently in an intensely bloody and fiery struggle with the Dalai Lama clique, a life or death struggle with the enemy,” Tibet’s Communist Party leader Zhang Qingli said in an editorial in the Tibet Daily on Wednesday.

The editorial also called for “a full victory in this intense battle against separatism.”

China also stood firm on plans to take the Olympic torch through Tibet in early May and again in June despite the unrest in Lhasa, which began with protests last week that escalated into violent riots on Friday.

“We firmly believe that the Tibetan Autonomous Region is able to ensure the stability of Lhasa,” said Jiang Xiaoyu, vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee.

At a press conference, he shrugged off concerns of possible Olympic boycotts, saying such calls are the work of only “a few people and of a few organizations.”

While blanket security in Lhasa appeared to have quashed the unrest, Tibetans in neighboring provinces have continued to stage defiant protests for independence in their homeland.

China has tried to block foreign reporters from travelling into these regions, but Canadian TV said it witnessed one of those protests on Tuesday in Gansu province and broadcast dramatic footage.

In the video clip, more than 1,000 ethnic Tibetans, some on horseback, charged into a remote town, attacked a government building, pulled down the Chinese flag at a school, tore it up, and hoisted the Tibetan one.

They were repelled by about 100 soldiers using tear gas, CTV said.

CTV’s story was posted on YouTube on Wednesday and could be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxm2obArsBs.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported late on Wednesday that rioters demanding “Tibetan independence” had attacked government buildings and burnt down shops in Gansu and Sichuan provinces in recent days.

China has denied using deadly force to quell the unrest and said the only deaths so far were 13 “innocent civilians” killed by rioters in Lhasa on Friday, while 325 people were injured.

Tibet’s government-in-exile has put the “confirmed” death toll from a week of unrest at 99, while the exiled Tibetan parliament in Dharamshala has said “hundreds” may have died in the Chinese crackdown.

Activists also pointed to photos said to be of dead Tibetans from a protest on Sunday in Ngawa, in southwest Sichuan province, as proof Chinese forces were using lethal force.

The veracity of the photos could not be independently verified by AFP.

Xinhua said 170 Tibetan “rioters” in Lhasa had surrendered by late Wednesday, following a midnight Monday deadline to turn themselves in.

But exiled groups and rights activists said hundreds of Tibetans had been detained throughout Tibet and other hotspots.

The Dalai Lama, in a letter released from his base in northern India on Wednesday, asked world leaders to help push for dialogue with China and press Beijing to show restraint.

“We remain committed to … pursuing a process of dialogue in order to find a mutually beneficial solution to the Tibetan issue,” the Dalai Lama wrote.

Although he repeated his accusation that China was engaged in “cultural genocide” in Tibet, he has also sent out conciliatory signals by appealing for calm and asserting he was not out to wrest Tibet from Chinese control.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he told Premier Wen Jiabao by phone Wednesday that he would meet the Dalai Lama, but the Chinese government later reacted furiously to the plan.

“China is seriously concerned about the message (Brown’s remarks on his willingness to meet the Dalai Lama),” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, according to Xinhua early Thursday.

“Dalai is a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion,” Qin said, adding that Britain must understand the Dalai Lama’s “true face.”

The protests started in Lhasa last week to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, which had begun in 1951 after communist troops moved into the Buddhist region to “liberate” it.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland after the 1959 uprising, of masterminding the latest unrest.

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