Tibet Riots: Denials, Denuciations and More Eyewitness Accounts (Updated)

Update, March 17, 2008:

The deadline for Tibetan protesters to surrender to Chinese police has passed, reports the BBC.

The Times (London) is reporting that the Chinese army paraded dozens of handcuffed prisoners, their heads bowed, through the streets of Lhasa on Monday as the midnight deadline for surrender approached. The troops also stepped up their hunt for rioters in house-to-house searches.

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 BBC has also obtained new video of violent scenes from the streets of Lhasa filmed last Friday.

Meanwhile, the AP is reporting on protests in Nepal today which were broken up by police.

There were also protests in London and Taipei.

Beijing is now rejecting suggestions it used violence in suppressing the riots in Lhasa, saying in an official statement that the 13 civilians who have died in the unrest (up from an estimate of 10 yesterday) were killed by the rioters themselves. From AFP:

“They either burned or hacked to death 13 innocent civilians,” the chairman of Tibet’s government, Qiangba Puncog, said.

…Mr Qiangba insisted Chinese security forces had not used lethal force or fired any gunshots, contradicting the eyewitness accounts of foreign tourists who were in the city at the time.

“Throughout the process (security forces) did not carry or use any lethal weapons,” Mr Qiangba said. “I can tell you as a responsible official that guns were absolutely not fired. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) was not involved at all in dealing with the incident.”

Another report, from Press Trust of India, quotes Qiangba as saying rioters beat a police officer and cut a piece of flesh, “the size of a fist,” from his buttock.

The Washington Post takes a look at domestic Chinese attitudes toward Tibet and the Dalai Lama, which generally support the government’s response. Likewise, the Los Angeles Times looks at how images in the Chinese media help bolster support for the government’s policies in Tibet. The Australian writes about the impressive government efforts to control information about events in Lhasa in recent days:

The Government was able to prevent many of the mobile phones in Lhasa from gaining a signal, apparently via control of microwave transmitters.

China’s expensive, world-leading internet filtering capacity – overseen by an estimated 40,000 “net police”, some of them paid part-time volunteers, including students – appears to have been fully engaged to search for and screen out items about Tibet.

Even within email, messages sent or received containing the name Tibet at the weekend regularly caused all access to the internet service provider to freeze. Chinese bloggers were not allowed to comment on domestic websites about the violence in Tibet.

Read more on this topic from a Guardian blog.

Meanwhile, a retired Indian diplomat writes that Chinese intelligence forces themselves, and their infiltration by pro-independence elements, are to blame for the chaos:

The revolt in Tibet and the incidents in Lhasa underline the total failure of the Chinese intelligence. They not only failed to detect in time the preparations being made for the revolt, but were also totally oblivious of the penetration of the Lhasa police by pro-independence recruits. There have been many desertions of Tibetan policemen from the force. Heads are expected to roll in the Ministries of Public and State Security— not only in their offices in Tibet, but also in their headquarters in Beijing. Well-informed Hong Kong sources say that even the position of Prime Minister Mr.Wen Jiabao may become shaky.

For an overview of modern China-Tibet relations, see this Reuters chronology.
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Original post (March 16, 2008):

As the Lhasa unrest spreads beyond Tibet, responses from key political figures both inside and outside China have started to flood the Internet. Perhaps the most predictable response comes from the state-supported Panchen Lama (installed by the Chinese government after the original Panchen Lama went missing), who has condemned the riots in Lhasa as a “crime” perpetrated by a “small number of people” to the detriment of Tibetans as a whole. Somewhat less expected is the response from the exiled Dalai Lama, who has slammed China for its response to the riots and expressed fears over more carnage but nevertheless continues to support Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics.

Al Jazeera has more from the Dalai Lama, plus footage shot today in Lhasa:

Meanwhile, a number of foreign officials have also come out to publicly urge restraint. This report from AP on the response of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier captures the typical tenor of the statements so far:

In a nearly hourlong call early Sunday, Steinmeier appealed to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to find a peaceful solution to the unrest in Tibet, expressing the great concern of the German government over the recent violence in the province.

See also:

France asks China to respect human rights in Tibet (Reuters)
Rudd urges China to show restraint over Tibet protests (ABC News)
India expresses distress, urges dialogue (The Hindu)
Japan urges self-restraint to contain riots in Tibet (Japan News Review)
Statement of Senator Barack Obama on the situation in Tibet

Elsewhere, the International Campaign for Tibet has published a translation of the Tibet High Court order encouraging protesters to surrender by tomorrow, as well as numerous eyewitness accounts from Lhasa, which show that the real situation on the ground is chaotic and impossible to decipher from a long distance. For example:

“I have talked with army personnel and they appear very disorganised. They do not know what is going on and who is giving orders. A group of tourists was escorted out of the hotel and dropped on Jiangsu Lu. They were heavily questioned and asked where they had hidden their camera memory sticks. The Army guys said that they should look for a hotel as the one they had been staying in had burned. From what I understand…the army just left them there on Jiangsu Lu with no clue whatsoever!” “Now it looks like a total war zone. Maybe half the shops are burnt…hundreds of them. There is telegraph poles knocked down by tanks, a tank has driven straight over the top of an SUV out the front of the hotel. There is a barricade of smashed cars that the tanks have bulldozed into a protective ring around the Army compound out front of the Jokhang. We have heard that the army is inside the Jokhang but cannot go over there to look. We also heard reports of a young injured monk who looked unconscious being carried on the back of a soldier.”

[For more from the ground, see this report from the Economist, one of the few news publications with a correspondent in Lhasa.]

Finally, Tibetan authorities have signaled that harsh reprisals for protesters are imminent. From Reuters:

Chinese security forces exercised “massive restraint” in their response to riots in Tibet last week, the region’s governor said on Monday, but he promised harsh punishment for those involved in the violent unrest…

Tibet’s government has set a midnight deadline for those who took part in the protests that he said had killed 13 “innocent civilians”…

“For those people who are still active or have committed serious crimes, we will deal with them harshly,” he said. “If these people can provide further information about those involved, then they could be treated more leniently.”

Here are some video clips from RFA’s website.

Slideshow: PLA soldiers on the street of Lhasa, from woeser’s blog, The Opposite of China blog, popyard.com and New Century News:

March 16, 2008 10:37 PM
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Categories: Politics