China accuses Dalai Lama of taking Olympics “hostage”

BEIJING, March 23 (Reuters) – China has accused the Dalai Lama of plotting “terror” in Tibet and colluding with Uighur separatists in Xinjiang as it escalates a security and propaganda drive to stifle anti-Chinese unrest ahead of the Olympics.

Anti-government protests by Buddhist monks erupted in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, from March 10 and five days later anti-Chinese rioting shook the city, killing a policeman and 18 innocent civilians, burnt or hacked to death, authorities have said.

Protests then flared in nearby provinces with large ethnic Tibetan populations, leaving at least several more people dead.

In Sichuan, Gansu and other troubled provinces, troops continued conspicuously patrolling the streets of Tibetan towns, with schools and Buddhist monasteries under tight guard.

China said on Sunday 94 people have been injured in Tibetan areas in Gansu, almost all of whom are police, Xinhua reported.

Police had discovered a semi-automatic rifle and a cache of ammunition in Gansu’s Gannan region, in what Xinhua described as the hideout of a “mobster”, in a report that repeated government offers of leniency to those who surrender.

Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, has criticised the violence and said he wants talks with China to negotiate autonomy, but not outright independence, for his homeland, which was occupied by Chinese troops from 1950.

But the government is intensifying propaganda telling its citizens and the rest of the world that the Dalai Lama, not failings in government policy, caused the trouble and that he wants to ruin Beijing’s Olympic Games in August.

“We must … win the final victory in all respects against the secessionist forces to help ensure a successful Olympic Games with a stable social situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” Xinhua quoted Tibet’s governor, Qiangba Puncog, as saying.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, said on Sunday that the Dalai, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, had never abandoned violence after fleeing China in 1959, following a failed revolt against Beijing.

“The so-called ‘peaceful non-violence’ of the Dalai clique is an outright lie from start to end,” the paper stated.

“In 2008, the Beijing Olympic Games, eagerly awaited by the people of the whole world, will arrive. But the Dalai Lama is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence.”

The paper earlier accused the Dalai Lama of planning attacks with the aid of violent Uighur separatist groups seeking an independent East Turkestan for their largely Muslim people in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.

FEROCIOUS CRITICISM

Up to now, most of the ferocious criticism of the Dalai Lama came from the official Tibet press, but many more are joining in.

“The Dalai clique has descended into becoming an outright terrorist organisation,” said a commentary on an official Shanghai news Web site (www.eastday.com).

Beijing’s efforts to isolate the Dalai Lama could become a sticking point with Taiwan’s President-elect Ma Ying-jeou, who said the exiled leader would be welcome on the disputed island, and an Olympic boycott was possible.

China calls Taiwan a breakaway province that must accept reunification.

“The Dalai Lama, if he wants to visit Taiwan, he’d be more than welcome,” Ma — who favours closer economic ties and political dialogue with China — told a news conference in Taipei on Sunday, a day after his landslide election win.

“If the situation in Tibet worsens, we would consider the possibility of not sending athletes to the Games,” said Ma.

China’s denunciations of the Dalai Lama have drawn applause from many Han Chinese citizens, who have said Western critics fail to appreciate their government’s efforts to develop Tibet and have treated the violence in Lhasa as legitimate protest.

But the campaign has begun to draw some domestic critics.

On Saturday, a group of 29 Chinese dissidents urged Beijing to end the bitter propaganda, allow United Nations investigators into Tibet, and open direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

While troops have choked off much travel in Tibetan areas and blocked access by foreign reporters, officials have also said they are guarding against unrest in Xinjiang.

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