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China denies claims hundreds were killed

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Latest update : 2008-03-17

China denied allegations by the Tibetan "government-in-exile" that hundreds of people had died in the crackdown on protests. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Beijing to hold talks with the Dalai Lama. (Report: O.Fairclough)

China faced mounting global pressure over Tibet on Monday amid exiles' claims that hundreds of people may have died in a crackdown on protesters, even though Beijing denied using deadly force.
   
In its first official account of the unrest in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, China blamed protesters who rose up against Chinese rule in what has turned into a public relations nightmare for Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games.
   
"They either burned or hacked to death 13 innocent civilians," Tibet government chairman Qiangba Puncog told reporters in Beijing, adding Chinese forces had not fired weapons at protesters.
   
"Throughout the process, (security forces) did not carry or use any lethal weapons."
   
However the Tibetan leadership in exile in India said about 100 people, and possibly "hundreds", had been killed in a widespread crackdown in Lhasa and throughout the Himalayan region.
   
Qiangba's comments also contradicted many eyewitness accounts from local Chinese and foreign tourists in Lhasa that they saw and heard repeated gunfire there on Friday, the biggest day of protests, and over the weekend.
   
Meanwhile, the international pressure continued to rise on China over its handling of the unrest with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling on Beijing to open talks with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
   
"We have really urged the Chinese over several years to find a way to talk with the Dalai Lama," Rice told reporters as she travelled to Moscow. "I would hope they still find a way to do that."
   
India also called on its giant neighbour to find a "non-violent" solution to the unrest, while a British minister said China risked wrecking its image as host of August's Games in Beijing if problems in Tibet escalated.
   
"This is China's coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that," Mark Malloch-Brown, minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, told BBC television.
   
In Lhasa, a massive security presence remained in place to ensure there was no repeat of Friday's violence, with independent reports still filtering out of the city despite foreign journalists being denied entry.
   
"Its awful... there are armed tanks rolling down the street. There appears to be a curfew here as hardly anyone is on the streets, apart from a lot of army men in riot gear," one foreigner in Lhasa told AFP by phone.
   
Chinese authorities have set a deadline of midnight on Monday for Tibetans involved in the unrest to surrender and warned that people sheltering them would be punished.
   
"Those who have committed serious crimes will be dealt with harshly," Qiangba said, urging Tibetans to inform on each other.
   
"If they turn themselves in, they will be dealt with leniently. If they provide further information about others involved, they will be treated even more leniently."
   
Meanwhile, security forces were busy elsewhere on Monday trying to end a wave of anti-Chinese protests in areas of western China with large ethnic Tibetan populations.
   
In one of the protests, activists said Chinese police had opened fire on a crowd in Sichuan province on Sunday, killing eight people.
   
A 15-year-old student was among the eight killed, the International Campaign for Tibet said.
   
Among the other protests in western China, monks have led marches involving thousands of people at and around the Labrang monastery, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most important sites, in Gansu province.
   
Another protest involving about 1,500 people was reported in Machu county, Gansu, on Sunday, with another rally there on Monday involving many more people, the London-based Free Tibet Campaign said.
   
The protests began in Lhasa early last week to coincide with the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that began when troops were sent in to "liberate" the vast Himalayan region nine years earlier.
   
The Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland after the 1959 uprising, spoke out on Sunday from his base of exile in India against what he termed China's "rule of terror" in Tibet.
   
"They simply rely on using force in order to simulate peace, a peace brought by force using a rule of terror," the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said.
   
Tibet's prime minister-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, said Monday that around 100 people had died in the crackdown on the latest unrest, while the parliament-in-exile said possibly hundreds had died.

Date created : 2008-03-17

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