Police Crack Down on Anti-Chinese Violence in Tibet

BEIJING, March 17 — Vowing a harsh crackdown, Chinese police conducted house-to-house searches in central Lhasa Monday and rounded up hundreds of Tibetans suspected of participating in a deadly outburst of anti-Chinese violence, exile groups and residents reported.

The large-scale arrests and official promises of tough reprisals suggested the Chinese government has decided to move decisively to crush the protests despite calls for restraint from abroad and warnings that heavy-handed repression could taint next summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Tibetan regional governor, Champa Phuntsok, said detainees who show remorse and inform on others who were part of the week-long unrest would be rewarded with better treatment. But Buddhist monks and other Tibetans who participated in Friday’s torching of Chinese-owned shops and widespread attacks on Han Chinese businessmen would be “dealt with harshly,” he told a news conference in Beijing.

In a widely broadcast announcement, the government had given rioters until midnight Monday to turn themselves in, after which they were threatened with arrest. But Urgen Tenzin, executive director of the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, said he was told by telephone that about 600 Tibetans had been arrested before nightfall by a police sweep that lasted most of the day.

One Han Chinese resident contacted by telephone said a squad of policemen had knocked on the door of his home in Lhasa and demanded to see national identity cards and residence permits for all those inside. A bank officer said police entered his city-center branch and obliged employees one by one to show their national identity cards and respond to questions about their residence and activities.

“We must give them tit for tat and firmly counterattack,” said an editorial in the Communist Party’s official newspaper in Lhasa, the Tibet Daily, in an indication of the government’s determination to crack down hard.

“Ensuring the social stability of the Tibet Autonomous Region is the number one political mission,” the paper said. “It is the priority. We have to take decisive and powerful measures to firmly beat down the enemy’s arrogance and never withdraw our troops without victory . . . We have to severely punish the criminals who are still beating, robbing and burning, arresting them rapidly and with absolutely no mercy.”

Champa Phuntsok, a Tibetan who is the territory’s second-ranking official under party secretary Zhang Qingli, said 13 people were killed during the rampage, raising the previous official death toll by three. They perished during the most violent moments of unrest Friday, when maroon-robed monks and Tibetan youths dressed in normal clothes set fires, looted shops and beat Chinese in what appeared to be an explosion of resentment against their economic domination.

There were no reports of casualties among security forces. But the New China News Agency said 12 were seriously injured — “like any other innocent victim,” the dispatch added — by rioters hurling stones, lashing out with knives and swinging clubs.

The Dalai Lama’s exile organization, headquartered in Dharamsala, India, since his flight from Tibet in 1959, said Tibetans reported by telephone and Internet that they had seen about 80 bodies after the violence Friday, identifying them as Tibetans killed in the disturbances.

The Tibet governor, at a news conference organized by the central government, said regular police and People’s Armed Police sent to quell the riots never opened fire with lethal weapons, although tear gas canisters were fired according to earlier official accounts. Residents and tourists reported hearing the sound of occasional gunfire. But video of deployments in the mostly empty streets of Lhasa Monday showed police without weapons.

With access to Tibet restricted and tight censorship by Chinese authorities, there was no way to assess the accuracy of the competing reports issued by Chinese authorities and exile organizations abroad.

The Communist Party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily, said Monday in its first account indicating the scope of the violence that “an extremely small minority” had engaged in acts of arson and vandalism that were being dealt with by authorities. But most public opinion abroad, it reported, was riveted on just concluded meetings of the National People’s Congress and the People’s Political Consultative Conference, during which Premier Wen Jiabao was formally reelected.

China Daily, the party’s English-language publication aimed primarily at foreigners, published a front page article about pro-Chinese Tibetan figures condemning the violence in Lhasa, which it said was “engineered by the Dalai clique.” Inside, it published a dispatch from the New China News Agency giving readers detailed descriptions of the attacks on shop owners.

Official Chinese television also showed footage of the destruction, focusing on attacks by the rioters to end several days of near silence about what was going on. Censorship of outside reporting on the Tibetan violence was uneven, with some satellite television reports on CNN or the BBC blocked and others allowed to run uninterrupted.

Although China’s censors mainly worry about what the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants learn, foreign impressions of the violence in Tibet were of concern as well because of the Beijing Olympics scheduled in August. President Hu Jintao’s government has been eager to use the games as a showcase for China’s economic progress over the last three decades and an occasion for international recognition of his attempts to modernize the country and its socialist system.

In that light, some Chinese officials suggested the riots in Lhasa were orchestrated by the Dalai Lama and his exile followers in an attempt to spoil the games. Similarly, they charged earlier this month that separatists in the Uighur Muslim region of Xinjiang were planning a terrorist attack with the Olympics in mind.

Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, has opposed efforts by human rights advocates, including Tibetans, to use the Olympics as a way to pressure Beijing for concessions. He told reporters over the weekend that he rejected the idea of an Olympic boycott because of Tibet but was concerned by the reports of violence in Lhasa.