China Denies Using Lethal Force Against Tibet Demonstrations
By Stephanie Ho
17 March 2008
China is denying it has used lethal force to quell demonstrations against Chinese rule in the Tibetan capital Friday. As VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing, the Chinese government is also stepping up its war of words against Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has accused China of carrying out a cultural genocide in Tibet.
China is taking the Tibet issue seriously. The Foreign Ministry called international reporters in Beijing to a last-minute briefing Monday.
Spokesman Liu Jianchao says the People's Liberation Army was not involved in quelling the violence, and has only recently arrived on the scene in Lhasa to help clear debris.
He says that Chinese law enforcement authorities did not even bring lethal weapons with them or use them to put down the riots.
But witnesses from the scene of the unrest report hearing gunfire. These witnesses included Americans, who provided information for a travel advisory issued by the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Official Chinese estimates have raised the death toll from 10 to 13. Chinese media say the casualties were innocent victims killed by protesters.
Tibetan groups outside of the country say the death toll from the riots is much higher and includes many Tibetans who were killed in the violence.
Liu repeated China's accusation that the Dalai Lama orchestrated Friday's protests in Lhasa.
Liu says China has what he called "compelling evidence" that the Dalai Lama organized the recent violence. He says Beijing will release this evidence soon.
From his home in exile in Dharmsala, India, the Dalai Lama said Sunday he is being made a scapegoat for China's lack of progress in realizing complete social harmony in Tibet.
"Firstly, what was the condition, what was the situation in Tibet? And what is the causes? Whether (someone) from outside really, including myself, started this problem or not. (It needs a) thorough investigation," he said.
He stopped short of fully condemning Friday's chaos and did not offer a direct message to those involved. But he said he is still committed to peaceful demonstration.
"As far as non-violent principle is concerned, I am fully committed. If Tibetans use violence, follow violence, I cannot agree," he said.
The Dalai Lama's non-violent methods have come into question in recent years by younger Tibetans who are increasingly frustrated with Chinese rule in Tibet.
On the streets of Beijing, it is not easy to find anyone willing to talk about the recent events in Lhasa.
One woman says she is confident the Chinese government has the ability to deal with the Tibet problem. One man said he knew about it, but had no comment.
Another woman, an ethnic Tibetan, rejects the government's accusations against the Dalai Lama.
She says she does not always believe everything the government tells her.
Chinese authorities have given demonstrators until midnight Monday to surrender or face unspecified harsh punishment.
Wenran Jiang, a political science professor at Canada's University of Alberta, says the Chinese leadership faces a dilemma in deciding its next steps.
"I am pretty sure at this exact moment, the examination of the situation is very intensely under way, and probably some internal debates. What is to the Chinese authorities' best interest at this moment is to minimize any damage to their image prior to the Olympics," he said.
China hosts the Olympics in August.
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