China Warns of "Life and Death Struggle" Over Tibet

China warned of a "life and death" struggle with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, as it sought to end a wave of protests in its Tibetan regions with arrests and tightened political control.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has accused the Tibetan spiritual leader of masterminding the protests -- which culminated in a riot on Friday in Tibet's capital, Lhasa -- from his base in the Indian town of Dharamsala, where he lives in exile.

Dalai Lama
Ronen Zilberman
Dalai Lama

"We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life and death struggle with the Dalai Clique," Tibet's Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, told a teleconference of the region's government and Party leaders.

"Leaders of the whole country must deeply understand the arduousness, complexity and long-term nature of the struggle," he said in remarks carried online by the China Tibet News.

China's state-run media says 105 people surrendered to police for taking part in the Lhasa protests after authorities set a midnight deadline for rioters to turn themselves in over the violence that the Dalai Lama's officials believe killed 99.

China, whose Communist troops entered Tibet in 1950 after taking power in Beijing, puts the death toll in Lhasa at 13. Foreign media are denied access to the area without government permission, making the competing claims difficult to verify.

China's authorities are keen to stem the violence quickly and regain stability over the country's remote far-west before the Olympics, which its capital, Beijing, will host in August.

But the Olympics also makes China more sensitive to international opinion over its policies in Tibet and its response to the unrest, and some activists overseas have demanded that the mountainous region be withdrawn from the Olympic torch relay that starts next Monday.

A human rights watchdog called on China to allow independent monitors to have access to detained Tibetans and said the government should publish names of those in custody.

"Given the long and well-documented history of torture of political activists by China's security forces, there is every reason to fear for the safety of those recently detained," said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"Only by giving access to independent monitors can China give the world some confidence that detainees are not being tortured or mistreated," he said in a statement.

The governor of Tibet has said that those who gave themselves up could be treated leniently, but warned that those who do not could face harsh treatment.

Zhang also suggested greater political control in the region. "We must continue to deepen our nationalist education and practically strengthen the building of political power at the grassroots," he told the teleconference.

"Epicenter Of Lies"

Despite reports that Lhasa was returning to normal, with tight security but schools and businesses operating as usual, overseas groups reported continuing protests in ethnic Tibetan towns and villages in western China.

The Free Tibet Campaign said it had two independent accounts of a peaceful demonstration in the Gansu province town of Gannan, and the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said there had been unrest in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province in which security forces fired on protesters.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao speaks at a press conference after the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Friday March 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
Greg Baker
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao speaks at a press conference after the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Friday March 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Both groups also cited a protest in Bora, near Gannan.

The Dalai Lama called for an end to the violence in Tibetan regions on Tuesday, and said he would step down as the head of Tibet's exiled state if that would stop the bloodshed.

But China's official Xinhua news agency called Dharamsala an "epicenter of lies", repeating Premier Wen's assertion that the unrest was "organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique".

"The Dalai clique maintained real-time contacts, sources say, through varied channels with the rioters in Lhasa, and dictated instructions to his hard core devotees and synchronized their moves," state news agency Xinhua reported.