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Uyghur News
26-03-08, 13:56
Foreign press visit Tibet, China says 660 surrendered

by Peter Harmsen 32 minutes ago

BEIJING (AFP) - China moved Wednesday to show it had the situation in Tibet under control, saying more than 660 people had surrendered over deadly unrest and escorting foreign journalists on a tour of the region.

The media trip came as Chinese state-run press and online forums ramped up criticism over Western reporting about the unrest, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned he might boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The small delegation of selected foreign journalists landed in Lhasa on Wednesday for a three-day trip expected to be tightly controlled and slanted toward China's version of events in the vast Himalayan region.

China has indicated the journalists -- the first allowed into Tibet since the unrest -- will be permitted to speak with victims of the violence and shown property damaged by rioters, but gave no assurances on reporting freedom.

The group did not include AFP and some other major global news agencies.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama reacted positively to news of the trip, but urged visiting journalists to do their homework before reporting on the situation.

"It's very good," the Dalai Lama said, "but it should be with complete freedom. Only then can you assess the real situation," he told reporters in New Delhi.

"In the meantime, I think the correspondents should also know the background of the events taking place there. Otherwise, there is always the possibility of artificial publicity," the 72-year-old Buddhist monk said.

Foreign reporters have been barred from visiting Tibet and neighbouring Chinese provinces with large Tibetan populations affected by the unrest, making it nearly impossible to independently verify the number of dead and arrested.

Protests against Beijing's rule of Tibet began in Lhasa on March 10 -- the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule of the region.

The demonstrations turned bloody four days later and spilled over into other parts of the country, with the Chinese authorities accused of heavy-handedness in putting down the demonstrations.

Tibet's government-in-exile has said 140 people were killed in the unrest, while China has reported a total of 20 deaths, 19 of them in Lhasa.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the protests -- a charge the Tibetan spiritual leader, who fled his homeland after the 1959 uprising, vehemently denies.

The Dalai Lama, who has said he is open to dialogue with Beijing, on Tuesday reiterated a pledge to resign as spokesman for the Tibetan people if there were more violent anti-Chinese protests.

Beijing has sought to highlight attacks by Tibetans on ethnic Chinese, and on Wednesday trumpeted the number of people who had turned themselves in to face punishment from their involvement in the unrest.

More than 280 people had surrendered in Lhasa, while 381 others had turned themselves in in Ngawa county, in southwest Sichuan province, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"Most of those who have come forward are ordinary people and monks who were deceived or coerced," said Shu Tao, a local Communist Party chief, according to the state-run China Daily.

Lhasa prosecutors have also issued arrest warrants for 29 people allegedly involved in a protest that broke out in the Tibetan capital on March 14, while police have put 53 suspects on a "most-wanted" list, Xinhua said.

The unrest comes at a delicate time for the Chinese authorities as the world watches Beijing ahead of the Summer Games, due to begin in less than five months.

Sarkozy said Tuesday that "all options are open" regarding an Olympics boycott, as he appealed to China's leaders to show a "sense of responsibility" over the unrest.

Increasing the pressure on Beijing, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in an interview published Wednesday, recommended that Sarkozy meet with the Dalai Lama during a planned trip to France in August.

China reacted Wednesday, with foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang issuing a statement saying the government "resolutely opposes official contact of any kind between any country and the Dalai Lama".

European foreign ministers will discuss the unrest in Tibet, the EU's Slovenian presidency said Wednesday.

Other countries remain firmly against any boycott, with the White House saying US President George W. Bush still planned to be present for the Olympic opening ceremony.

Communist forces were sent into Tibet in 1950 to "liberate" the region and officially annexed it the following year, but resentment and tension has simmered ever since.

26-03-08, 13:57