China vows to protect territory from attacks

BEIJING – China accused Tibetan supporters of the Dalai Lama of attacking its embassies around the world, vowing yesterday to protect its territory in the central government’s first comments on violent protests against Chinese rule of Tibet.

The statement came as more clashes erupted in other Chinese provinces and a midnight deadline passed for protesters in Tibet’s capital to surrender or face harsh consequences. Residents of Lhasa feared a military sweep after midnight, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said.

“The Chinese government will unwaveringly protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.

Protests that began in Tibet have spilled over to neighboring provinces and even to the capital, Beijing, where students staged a sit-down demonstration yesterday. There have been sympathy protests around the world as well, many of them outside Chinese diplomatic missions.

“Tibetan independence forces used violent acts to break through police cordons in foreign countries and break into Chinese embassies and consulates,” Liu said. He called on international governments to increase security at its missions.

He said the “atrocities of the Tibetan independence forces manifested … the hypocrisy and deceit of its peace and non-violence propaganda,” a reference to supporters of the Dalai Lama.

The fiercest anti-China protests in Tibet in almost two decades have attracted more international scrutiny of the communist government’s human rights record in the run-up to the Beijing Summer Olympics, which China had hoped would boost its image in the world.

Britain’s Cabinet minister for Asian affairs warned that tough handling of the unrest in Tibet could undermine China’s efforts.

“This is a China engaged with the world which is using the Olympics to demonstrate a new openness, and it risks all of that collapsing in on it if it is seen as being the enforcer of a crackdown on Tibetans,” Mark Malloch-Brown told British Broadcasting Corp. television.

In London, around 80 protesters held a raucous rally outside the Chinese Embassy and some hurled placards and sticks at the building while trying unsuccessfully to force their way in.

“We want China to hold true to the ideals of the Olympics with freedom of speech, freedom of expression and media access,” said Phurbu Rinzin, one of six Tibetan students from British universities who planned to hold a 24-hour hunger strike outside the embassy.

German police detained 26 Tibetans when they tried to break into the Chinese consulate in Munich. The protesters tore down a Chinese flag and spray-painted “Save Tibet” and “Stop Killing” on the building.

In the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, police used bamboo batons to chase off some 100 Tibetan protesters and Buddhist monks protesting against China. Police in India’s capital clashed with nearly 100 pro-Tibet protesters who tried to get to China’s embassy.

Tibet’s China-appointed governor, Champa Phuntsok, denounced the protesters in Lhasa as criminals and threatened harsh consequences for those who did not turn themselves in by midnight yesterday. Tibet’s legal authorities issued the surrender deadline Saturday.

“If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law,” said Champa Phuntsok, an ethnic Tibetan. Otherwise “we will deal with them harshly,” he added.

He said those who turned themselves in and informed on others would earn even more leniency.

“No country would allow those offenders or criminals to escape the arm of justice and China is no exception,” Champa Phuntsok said at news briefing.

Champa Phuntsok said he did not know if anyone had surrendered and police and government officials in Lhasa refused to comment.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, said Sunday that he felt “helpless” in the face of the Chinese ultimatum for protesters to surrender.

“I feel very sad, very serious, very anxious. Cannot do anything,” the Nobel Peace laureate told reporters at the headquarters of Tibet’s government-in-exile in India.

The unrest in Tibet began March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that sent the Dalai Lama and much of the leading Buddhist clergy into exile. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before Chinese communist troops entered in 1950.

Largely peaceful protests by monks spiraled into violence Friday, with Tibetans attacking Chinese and burning their businesses in Lhasa. The outburst came after several years of intensifying government control over Buddhist practices and vilification of the Dalai Lama, whom Tibetans still revere.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated yesterday her call for China to show restraint in fighting the protests and urged Beijing to find a way to work with the Dalai Lama.

“There’s been a kind of missed opportunity for the Chinese to engage the Dalai Lama,” Rice told reporters yesterday. She said the Dalai Lama is a voice of authority, not a separatist, and he could “lend his moral weight” to helping stabilize Tibet.

Champa Phuntsok said the death toll from last week’s violent demonstrations in Lhasa was 16 and dozens were injured. The Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile said 80 people were killed – a claim the governor denied.

He said calm had been restored in the city. Residents said yesterday that police were patrolling the streets and had sealed off key roads downtown, where the riots occurred, but that conditions were not as tense as over the weekend.

“Today, many people went back to work and some schools are open,” said a tour guide. “Prices of food, gasoline and other things are soaring.”

Over the weekend, Chinese troops on foot and in armored vehicles poured into the streets of Lhasa and enforced a curfew that kept most people off the streets.

Authorities paraded handcuffed Tibetan prisoners in Lhasa yesterday, The Times of London reported on its online edition. The report said four trucks in a convoy drove through the city, with 40 people, mostly young Tibetan men and women, standing in the back, their wrists handcuffed and a soldier behind each one holding the prisoner’s head bowed.

Going house-to-house, police checked identity cards and residence permits, detaining any without permission to stay in Lhasa, the Times said.

While Lhasa swarmed with troops, Chinese soldiers were mobilizing across western China’s mountain valleys and broad plains to deal with protests in Tibetan communities in Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

At Central Nationalities University in Beijing, an elite school for ethnic minorities, 100 students held a silent candlelight vigil, sitting down in an outdoor plaza yesterday night.

“We’re doing this for those who are suffering,” said a young Tibetan student.

Uniformed and plainclothes security kept watch but did not interfere with the vigil. Foreign journalists were prevented from taking photos and told to leave.

The government also began to tighten its already firm hold on information. Officials expelled foreign reporters from Tibetan areas in Qinghai and Gansu provinces, contravening regulations that opened most of China to foreign media for the Olympics.

Some of the few independent media remaining in Lhasa were ordered out, making it difficult to verify casualties and other details.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists criticized Chinese authorities.

“Restrictions on the reporting of the Tibetan protests make a mockery of China’s assurances that the media would be allowed to operate freely in the run-up to the Olympic Games, and give us a disturbing preview of the kind of blanket censorship journalists might face in August,” said Joel Simon, the group’s executive director.

Russia voiced support for China’s government, saying it hoped “Chinese authorities will take all necessary measures to stop illegal actions and provide for the swiftest possible normalization of the situation.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said any efforts to boycott the Beijing Olympics would be “unacceptable.”

Olympic officials have also said they oppose any boycott over Tibet.