China: Dalai Lama's comments are 'downright nonsense'

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.

China has denied the Dalai Lama's accusations that the government is operating a "cultural genocide" and a "rule of terror" against the Tibetan people; officials called his remarks "downright nonsense" and instead asserted Tibet's culture is thriving despite the recent unrest between protesters and Chinese authorities.

"Nowadays, Tibetan people have been living a modern life while enjoying the development of traditional Tibetan culture," said Doje Cezhug, mayor of Tibet's capital Lhasa. "Should the Dalai separatists group not spoil [Tibet's stability], Tibet would be in its best period of development in history."

"We have 1,700 well-protected temples," said an official identified by Xinhua as Legqog. "Monks and the public enjoy full religious freedom."

Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, had condemned China's reaction to the protests, accusing the government of undermining the Tibetan people. "Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place," he had said. "They simply rely on using force in order to simulate peace, a peace brought by force using a rule of terror." He called for an international organization to investigate the government's activities.

For those people who are still active or have committed serious crimes, we will deal with them harshly.

—Qiangba Puncog

Meanwhile, China vowed to use harsh measures against people involved in the Lhasa riots. The Tibetan regional government has established a midnight deadline for protesters to turn themselves in to the authorities, threatening to inflict severe punishment upon those who fail to do so.

At a press conference in Beijing, Tibet's governor Qiangba Puncog said, "For those people who are still active or have committed serious crimes, we will deal with them harshly. If these people can provide further information about those involved, then they could be treated more leniently."

The governor denied that Chinese security forces used lethal force against demonstrators. "I can tell you as a responsible official that guns were absolutely not fired," he said. He also said that calm was returning to Lhasa, but he added that the government has advised foreigners to stay away. Many tourists and locals have not been allowed to leave Lhasa since Friday.

There was just a massive military presence, and everything was being watched.

—Andreas Larsen-Helms

Tourists making their way out of the region gave their own reports on the violence. "There was just a massive military presence, and everything was being watched," said Danish tourist Andreas Larsen-Helms, who described the scene as "Orwellian". Mary Cannesta, an American tourist visiting Lhasa, says she heard "a lot of gunfire" in the middle of the night.

The reported death tolls for the riots range from 16, China's latest figure given by Qiangba Puncog, to 80, the estimate given by the Tibetan government in exile. Over the weekend, the protests against China spread to Tibetan communities in neighboring provinces, including Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu.

In Sichuan's Ngawa prefecture, a witness said government troops had moved into Barkham County to stop a group of 1,000 from protesting. He said one policeman was shot and three or four police vans were set on fire. Others reported that up to 30 protesters were shot, while more reliable reports put the death toll at 7.

In Gansu's Xiahe County, Tibetans held two protests, one considerably more peaceful than the other. On the second day of their protesting, government offices were smashed, and police arrived to throw tear gas into the crowd of over 1,000. Authorities marched through the town, which has placed under a curfew.

The unrest in China has drawn attention to the 2008 Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to occur August in Beijing. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, expressed concern over the situation, but rejected the idea of boycotting the games.


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