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Latest update : 2008-03-16

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday urged the Chinese government to "exercise restraint" in responding to protests in Tibet and called for the release of detained monks. (Report: L. Kammourieh)

The Tibetan capital of Lhasa remained tense on Sunday amid a huge security clampdown, as China faced strong international pressure to use restraint in ending an uprising that has left many people dead.

Residents reported that soldiers were still blanketing the city on Sunday morning, two days after violent protests presented China's communist rulers with a huge domestic crisis just five months out from the Beijing Olympics.

The unrest, the biggest challenge to China's rule of the vast Himalayan region since protests in 1989 were crushed by the military, left at least 10 people dead, according to the official Chinese account in the state-run press.

But the Tibetan government-in-exile on Saturday said about 30 people had been killed and it had received unconfirmed reports of 100 fatalities.

With Lhasa sealed off to foreign journalists and tourists, independent information was scare, making it impossible to determine exactly how many people were killed and how.

Lhasa's mayor, Doje Cezhug, insisted on Sunday the situation in Lhasa and throughout the region was calm.

"We didn't enforce martial law there, and the situation in Tibet as a whole is good at present," the mayor said in Beijing on the sidelines of China's annual parliamentary session, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

However people inside Lhasa said the city remained extremely tense, with soldiers on every street corner and residents either under orders, or too scared, to go outside.

"Nobody is going outside. We are not sure if there is a curfew but it is clearly implied," one foreigner in Lhasa, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution, told AFP by phone.

"You would be mad to go outside, there are police and security everywhere."

Friday's violence saw Tibetans ransack Chinese businesses and destroy police cars, with China's state-run media blaming people aligned to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for masterminding the violence.

Tibetan rights groups have countered that Chinese security forces fired gunshots to quell the unrest, and the protests were due to decades of brutal rule from China's communist rulers.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 to "liberate" the region from feudal rule and officially annexed it a year later.

In 1959, Tibetans staged a huge uprising against the Chinese that the military crushed. The Dalai Lama fled his homeland following the failed challenge and has since lived in Dharamshala, India.

The latest protests were held to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising.

The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989 for his peaceful resistance to Chinese rule and insists he does not want independence for Tibet, rather greater cultural autonomy and an end to repression.

However China views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous "splittist" who is intent on achieving independence for his homeland.

The Dalai Lama expressed "deep concern" about China's crackdown to the latest unrest, and urged Chinese authorities to address the "resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue" rather than through force.

With China having set a deadline Monday at midnight for demonstrators to surrender, the Dalai Lama is to deliver a speech on Sunday afternoon from Dharamshala.

With the world waiting to see how China will deal with the protests, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday urged the Chinese government to "exercise restraint."

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 in a statement.

"We call on the Chinese government to exercise restraint in dealing with these protests, and we strongly urge all sides to refrain from violence," Rice said.

Many other nations, including Germany, Britain, Sweden and Canada, have also expressed concern about the events in Lhasa and urged China to act with moderation.

For China, the crisis comes as it sought to prove itself as a responsible world power and a force for global harmony ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.

Date created : 2008-03-16