Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao accused supporters of the Dalai Lama on Tuesday of organizing violent clashes in Tibet in hopes of sabotaging the Beijing Olympics and bolstering their campaign for independence in the Himalayan territory. ( AP )
The Dalai Lama urged his followers to remain peaceful, saying he would resign as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if violence got out of control. But he also suggested China may have fomented unrest in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and nearby provinces to discredit him.
In striking an uncompromising line, Wen underscored the communist leadership's determination to restore order in Tibet and Tibetan areas of neighboring provinces.
"There is ample fact - and we also have plenty of evidence - proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," he told reporters at his annual news conference at the end of China's national legislative session.
"By staging that incident, they want to undermine the Beijing Olympic Games, and they also try to serve their hidden agenda by inciting such incidents," said Wen.
He said Lhasa was returning to normal and "will be reopened to the rest of the world," but did not specify when.
Independent reporting from the region was impossible because of China's tight control over information and a ban on trips to the area by foreign reporters.
John Kenwood, a 19-year-old Canadian tourist who left Lhasa on Tuesday, said he saw street cleaners wearing orange vests emblazoned with the Beijing Olympics symbol.
"When the fighting began, you saw no Chinese," said Kenwood as he arrived in Nepal. "Now you see no Tibetans on the streets. The young Tibetans are probably hiding."
The Lhasa protests, led by Buddhist monks, began peacefully March 10, the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet had been effectively independent for decades before Chinese communist troops imposed Beijing's control in 1950.
The demonstrations took a violent turn Friday, leaving 16 people dead and dozens injured, according to the Chinese government. The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in India contends 80 Tibetans died.
The protests have focused world attention on China's human rights record ahead of the Olympics. The government had hoped the Aug. 8-24 games would burnish its image as a modernizing nation.
The Dalai Lama, speaking in Dharmsala, India, seat of his government-in-exile, urged nonviolence.
"I say to China and the Tibetans: Don't commit violence," he told reporters. He suggested the Chinese themselves may have had a hand in the upheaval to discredit him.
"It's possible some Chinese agents are involved there," he said. "Sometimes totalitarian regimes are very clever, so it is important to investigate."
If violence spirals out of control, he said his "only option is to completely resign" as head of the government-in-exile. A top aide said later the Dalai Lama would not give up his role as spiritual leader for Tibetan Buddhists.
U.S. officials urged China to address Tibetans' grievances and to engage in direct talks with the Dalai Lama.
"I do think that his statements point out the fact that he is not arguing for independence or separation from China. Quite the opposite, he is arguing for dialogue with the Chinese," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
Chinese authorities pressed ahead with efforts to round up protesters in Lhasa. Witnesses said officials had been detaining people since the weekend.
Duoji Zeren, vice governor of Tibet, was quoted on state television as saying authorities "would take determined methods to capture the primary suspects," but no details were given.
Protests spilled over from Tibet into surrounding provinces in recent days, as police and soldiers set up checkpoints across a wide swath of western China. On Tuesday, thousands of Tibetans flooded the streets in Seda, in the southern Chinese province of Sichuan, according to the Tibet Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Activist groups also circulated graphic photographs of protesters who they said were massacred Sunday by Chinese police at Kirti monastery in Sichuan province. The images showed several men who were apparently shot and bodies covered in blood. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the photographs.