The situation in Tibet remains explosive

The  situation in Tibet remains explosive

The Dalai Lama called Sunday for an international investigation into China's crackdown against protesters in Tibet, which he said is facing a "cultural genocide" and where his exiled government said 80 people were killed in the violence. ( AP )

The demonstrations were the fiercest challenge to Beijing's rule in the region in nearly two decades, leading to sympathy protests elsewhere and embarrassing China ahead of the Olympic Games.

Along with 80 killed, some 72 people were injured in the protests, said Thubten Samphel, a spokesman for the exiles. He said the figures were confirmed by multiple sources inside Tibet who had counted corpses. China's state media said 10 people died.

Meanwhile, hundreds of armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets of Lhasa two days after Tibetans torched buildings and stoned Chinese residents. Hong Kong Cable TV reported some 200 military vehicles, carrying 40 to 60 armed soldiers each, drove into the city center of Lhasa on Sunday.

Footage showed the streets were mostly empty other than the security forces. Messages on loudspeakers warned residents to "Discern between enemies and friends, maintain order" and "Have a clear stand to oppose violence, maintain stability."

The Tibetan spiritual leader, speaking in Dharmsala, the north Indian hill town where Tibet's government-in-exile is based, said "Some respected international organization can find out what the situation is in Tibet and what is the cause."

"Whether the (Chinese) government there admits or not, there is a problem. There is an ancient cultural heritage that is facing serious danger," the Dalai Lama said. "Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place."

It was not immediately clear if he was referring to China's overall policies in Tibet when he spoke of a genocide, or the recent crackdown.

The violence erupted just two weeks before China's Summer Olympic celebrations kick off with the start of the torch relay, which passes through Tibet. China is gambling that its crackdown will not draw an international outcry over human rights violations that could lead to boycotts of the Olympics.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on China "to exercise restraint in dealing with these protests," while the State Department issued a travel alert for Americans in the region. Her statement also called for China to release monks and others jailed for protesting.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported at least 10 civilians were burned to death on Friday. But the Tibetan exiles said that, of the 80 they confirmed were killed, 26 alone died Saturday next to the Drapchi prison in Lhasa. Five girls were killed in the town's central Tibetan neighborhood, said Tenzin Taklha, the senior aide to the Dalai Lama.

China restricts access to Tibet for foreign media, making it difficult to independently verify the casualties and the scale of protests and suppression.

The latest unrest began Monday on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before communist troops entered in 1950.

Initially, the protests were led by Buddhist monks demanding the release of other detained monks. Their demands spiraled to include cries for Tibet's independence and turned violent Friday when police tried to stop a group of protesting monks. Pent-up grievances against Chinese rule came to the fore, as Tibetans directed their anger against Chinese and their shops, hotels and other businesses.

Amid the clampdown that followed, foreign tourists in Lhasa were told to leave, a hotel manager and travel guide said, with the guide adding that some were turned back at the airport.

Even as Chinese forces appeared to reassert control in Lhasa, sympathy protests had erupted on Saturday in an important Tibetan town 750 miles away in Gansu Province.

Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans after they marched from the historic Labrang monastery and smashed windows in the county police headquarters in Xiahe, witnesses said.

On Sunday, Gansu provincial Governor Xu Shousheng called the protests "a planned and organized destructive activity" and blamed the "outside Dalai group" for instigating the riots.

Also in recent days, demonstrations by Tibetan exiles and their supporters sprouted up in neighboring Nepal, New York, Switzerland and Australia.

The Chinese government is hoping a successful Olympics will boost its popularity at home as well as its image abroad. But Beijing's hosting of the Olympics has already attracted scrutiny of China's human rights record and its pollution problems.

So far, international criticism of the crackdown in Tibet has been mild. The U.S. and European Union called for Chinese restraint without any threats of an Olympic boycott or other sanctions.

"What is happening in Tibet and Beijing's responses to it will not affect the games very much unless the issue really gets out of control," said Xu Guoqi, a China-born historian at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Saturday he opposed an Olympic boycott over Tibet. "We believe that the boycott doesn't solve anything," Rogge told reporters on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. "On the contrary, it is penalizing innocent athletes and it is stopping the organization from something that definitely is worthwhile organizing."

The details emerging from witness accounts and government statements suggested Beijing was preparing a methodical campaign to deal with the unrest - one that if carefully modulated would minimize bloodshed and avoid wrecking Beijing's grand plans for the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

In Lhasa, law-enforcement agencies issued a notice offering leniency for demonstrators who surrender before the end of Monday and threatening severe punishment for those who do not.

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