A boy being taken by force along a street in the Tibetan capital Lhasa
China blocks internet access over coverage of protests
Dozens of Tibetan prisoners were paraded on military trucks in Lhasa yesterday, with their heads bent and wrists handcuffed behind their backs, as soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army tightened their grip on the Tibetan capital.
As a midnight deadline approached for rioters to surrender, soldiers carried out house-to-house searches. Some of those suspected of taking part in the mayhem last Friday, when Tibetan anger at Chinese rule erupted into racial hatred with stabbing and beating of ethnic Han Chinese and the burning of shops, banks and businesses, had already been detained.
Four open army trucks carrying about 40 people, mostly young Tibetan men and women, drove in a slow convoy along main roads, witnesses said. Loudspeakers on the trucks broadcast calls to anyone who had taken part in the riots to turn themselves in. Those who gave themselves up might be treated leniently, the rest would face severe punishment, the broadcasts said.
The worst violence for 20 years in the deeply Buddhist Himalayan region has drawn a tough response from the Chinese Government, which is facing embarrassment as the riots threaten to tarnish its image of unity and stability only five months before it plays host to the Olympic Games.
Claims and counterclaims from Chinese officials and Tibetan exiles over the number of casualties and a ban on foreign journalists in Tibet have resulted in much confusion.
Champa Phuntsok, the ethnic Tibetan Governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region, said the demonstrations had left 13 dead and dozens wounded. Unconfirmed reports from Tibetan exile groups put the death toll at 80 – a claim he denied. He said: “This time a tiny handful of separatists and lawless elements engaged in extreme acts with the goal of generating even more publicity to wreck stability during this crucial period of the Olympic Games.”
Speaking in Beijing, where he was attending the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Governor made clear that the response would be severe. “No country would allow those offenders or criminals to escape the arm of justice and China is no exception.”
The search for those involved began in earnest in Lhasa yesterday as office workers trickled back to work after a weekend of fear. Soldiers began house-to-house searches, checking all identification papers, residents said. Anyone unable to show an identity card and a household registration permitting residence in Lhasa was being taken away.
The unrest has spread swiftly into neighbouring provinces in China with a large ethnic Tibetan population. In an extraordinary development late yesterday, nearly 100 students in Beijing staged a daring vigil.
March 18, 2008
Source: The Times