Officials keep silent on reports of dead protesters in Gansu

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am


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Riots have broken out in Tibetan-populated areas in Gansu this week, officials admitted yesterday, but they declined to confirm overseas reports that more than a dozen protesters had been killed there.

'Riots broke out continuously in recent days in Xiahe, Luchu and Machu counties,' said Zhang Yusheng, a government spokesman. 'A small number of unlawful elements used violent means to carry out looting and destruction of shops, schools, hospitals and government buildings.

'They caused serious damage to social stability and people's lives and property.'

The spokesman said police exercised 'maximum restraint' in quelling the unrest but did not give any details of casualties.

But the Free Tibet Campaign, a London-based group, said at least 12 protesters were shot dead in Machu county while clashing with security forces.

Beijing says 13 civilians were killed in riots that started in Lhasa last week.

Mr Zhang also blamed the Dalai Lama for the unrest - a charge that has been denied by the Tibetan spiritual leader, who said yesterday that he remained committed to dialogue with Chinese leaders.

On Tuesday, Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing would talk to the Dalai Lama - whom he labelled a hypocrite - but he must first renounce all forms of Tibetan independence.

The Gansu reports indirectly confirmed that protests continued to spread from Lhasa to Tibetan-populated areas in provinces such as Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. Chinese officials have repeatedly said the riots had been quelled and contained.

Yesterday, Canadian television network CTV broadcast footage of Tibetans - some on horseback - protesting in an unidentified town in Gansu, demanding independence for Tibet. They galloped into the town and stormed government buildings. One section of the video showed them tearing down the Chinese flag and hoisting the Tibetan flag.

There was no footage of retaliation by authorities, but fleeing Tibetans could be seen covering their faces after policemen apparently fired tear gas to disperse them.

Yesterday, Britain's The Times reported that a homemade bomb was thrown at a paramilitary police vehicle in Lhasa on Tuesday. The report said it was not clear how many policemen were hurt but quoted local residents saying four had been killed.

Yesterday, Xinhua quoted Raidi, a former vice-chairman of the National People's Congress, as saying foreign news coverage of the riots that gripped Lhasa last week was 'outrageous and ill motivated'.

'Some western media purposely distorted the facts and viciously described a severe crime as a peaceful demonstration, so as to slander our legitimate efforts to maintain social stability as a violent crackdown,' he said.