China warns Tibetan protesters to surrender

( AFP )- China on Monday warned Tibetans involved in anti-Chinese protests to quickly surrender, but insisted it had not used deadly force in quelling the unrest and blamed rioters for murdering 13 people.

"They either burned or hacked to death 13 innocent civilians," Tibet government chairman Qiangba Puncog said in Beijing as he gave the first detailed official account of the protests in the region's capital, Lhasa.

Amid international calls for China to show restraint, and reported threats from some athletes that they may boycott the Beijing Olympics over the unrest, Qiangba sought to portray the Chinese response as reserved.

"Throughout the process (security forces) did not carry or use any lethal weapons," he said.

"I can tell you as a responsible official that guns were absolutely not fired. The PLA (People's Liberation Army) was not involved at all in dealing with the incident."

His comments contradicted many eyewitness accounts from local Chinese residents and foreign tourists in Lhasa that they saw and heard repeated gunfire in the city on Friday, the biggest day of protests, and the weekend.

Tibet's government-in-exile said that 80 Tibetans were confirmed killed and possibly more than 100. Witnesses, residents and Hong Kong television reported a massive security force in Lhasa.

The protests began 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.

Tibetan spiritual leader 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.

China has virtually sealed Lhasa off from foreign journalists and kicked out most of the tourists, making it virtually impossible to determine exactly what happened and report accurately on current events.

However one Lhasa resident told AFP by phone on Monday that the city was still extremely tense.

"The situation is serious, people feel scared. Tanks are on the streets... people here don't go outside because the government has asked us to keep our doors closed," said a man surnamed Jia.

Chinese authorities have set a deadline of midnight on Monday for Tibetans involved in the unrest to surrender and warned that people hiding them will 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."

While much of the focus has been on Lhasa, there were reports of protests in other areas of China that have significant ethnic Tibetan populations.

At least seven people were killed when police shot at hundreds of rioting Tibetans in the town of Ngawa, southwest China's Sichuan province, on Sunday, a resident and two activist groups with contacts there told AFP.

Monks have also led protests involving thousands of people at and around the Labrang monastery, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most important sites, in neighbouring Gansu province

In a newspaper interview, International Olympic Committee vice-president Thomas Bach said a number of top athletes were considering boycotting August's Games in China over the bloody crackdown.

"Several sports stars are feeling ill at ease when they think about the Olympic Games. Some are even considering cancelling," Bach, a German, told Sunday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The Dalai Lama said the Games should go on, but also said China needed to be "reminded to be a good host."

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