The Chinese government has defied international anger at its crackdown on Tibetan independence protests, accusing the Dalai Lama and his "splittist clique" of being out to destroy the Olympics and damage China's international reputation.
Ethnic Han Chinese were the real victims of the Tibetan riots, the Beijing authorities say, and its security forces will respond severely. This month's riots were the most intense in 20 years, shaking Lhasa and surrounding areas and leaving Beijing to repair the worst damage to its public image since the tanks rolled in central Beijing in 1989, massacring pro-democracy activists.
"Evidence shows that the violent incidents were created by the 'Tibet independence' forces and masterminded by the Dalai Lama clique with the vicious intention of undermining the upcoming Olympics and splitting Tibet from the motherland," thundered an editorial in the People's Daily yesterday.
The Dalai Lama – who this weekend was in Delhi for a meditation workshop that the actor Richard Gere was due to attend – denies he incited the riots. Last week the Nobel Peace Prize winner suggested he might resign over the unrest, which goes against his professed policy of trying to find a peaceful way of gaining more autonomy for Tibet. He also says he supports the Beijing Games.
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader has said he would meet the Chinese leadership, even in Beijing, if he believed there was a concrete indication it was ready to enter dialogue.
The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said he had been told by Chinese officials that they were prepared to meet the Dalai Lama under certain conditions, but yesterday's blast in the People's Daily appears to signal that there is to be no compromise with him nor with the international attempts at mediation.
Meanwhile demonstrators in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama's Indian base, continue to protest at the Chinese actions, which they claim have resulted in the deaths of up to 100 people, in contrast to China's official Xinhua news agency, which said 18 civilians and a policeman died in Lhasa. Waving Tibetan flags and carrying banners protesting against the Beijing authorities, the marchers have brought the town to a halt on a daily basis.
"They are not giving back the bodies. That is why no one knows how people are dead," said one protester, Dolma Tsering. On efforts to draw international attention to what has happened, she added: "We have to do something. We have to make a noise." Another protester, Lopsong Dawa, said: "We are only trying for peace, but China is lying. One day we will get our freedom."
Protests in Tibet began on 10 March to mark the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Beijing's rule, amid widespread anger over what Tibetans say have been brutal and repressive policies. Beijing has accused foreign media of anti-China bias in its reporting of the riots, but the true number of deaths may never be known, since China has barred outsiders from the trouble spots.
Hundreds of truckloads of soldiers and armed police have poured into Tibet and other Tibetan areas of China, such as Gansu and Sichuan provinces, and human rights groups have warned of waves of arrests and possible torture of those picked up in the crackdown. Police in Lhasa issued a "most wanted" list of 21 suspects and posted their pictures on the internet.
Footage of ethnic Han Chinese being attacked by Tibetans in Lhasa has dominated state media in China. There have been reports of Lhasa residents mourning Han victims, feel-good stories about Tibetans praising Chinese investment in the Himalayan region and images of Tibetan schoolchildren being taught their native language in schools – one of the biggest criticisms of China has been the way it is damaging local culture. The media also warned Uighur Muslim separatists, in the restive north-western region of Xinjiang, against following the Tibetans' lead.
Xinhua reported that China had broad international support for its "legitimate actions to handle the violence in Lhasa". The English-language China Daily said Western coverage was "biased and sometimes dishonest", aimed at portraying China in a negative light, and accused foreign media of running "untrue" reports.
The crackdown has severely dented hopes of closer ties with Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province to be taken back by force if necessary, ratcheting up tensions in one of Asia's biggest flashpoints. In yesterday's election there, the Kuomintang, the Communists' civil war enemies, who now favour closer ties with Beijing, returned to power after eight years – the first piece of good news for Beijing this month. However, the victor, Ma Ying-jeou, was forced to take a more sceptical line on closer relations after voters said they were disturbed by the sight of Chinese troops attacking monks in Tibet.
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