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Tibetans Dispute Official Claim of No Riot Deaths

Tibetans in China's mountainous southwestern province of Sichuan on Friday disputed the government's claim that nobody was killed in anti-Chinese riots there this week, saying they believed several died.

China's official Xinhua news agency said overnight police shot and wounded four protesters this week in a heavily ethnic Tibetan part of the province, where protests broke out after anti-Chinese riots in neighboring Tibet last Friday.

The protests have alarmed China, which is keen to put its best face forward leading up to the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.

Having initially said four protesters were shot dead in Sichuan, Xinhua amended its account and said they were wounded and that the police had fired weapons only to defend themselves.

But two residents of Aba prefecture, where the rioting started on Sunday, told Reuters they believed several died when the protesters attacked a police station and government offices, burnt cars and attacked officials. Anti-riot troops then moved in.

They said police had detained many men suspected of rioting.

"Everyone here believes that our people died, maybe 10 or more," said one ethnic Tibetan resident who had previously told Reuters of the clash before Xinhua reported it. "I'm not a supporter of violence and I oppose attacking people just because they're Han," he said, referring to the country's majority Han Chinese population. "But I believe Tibetans also died. They are not telling facts."

"I'm People Died"

Another Tibetan man in the Aba county town where the rioting erupted said he
hid inside his home during the riot.

"I'm sure people died. We all know," he said in a brief telephone conversation. "We don't dare go out. They are arresting many people after what happened."

Both residents asked not to be named, fearing punishment for talking to reporters, and other residents contacted refused to say anything.

Troops and anti-riot police have poured into Tibet and surrounding regions to secure the area from more protests.

Roadblocks and vehicle checks have been imposed to restrict travel and keep out foreign journalists, making it impossible to directly test the conflicting accounts.

Authorities said they had arrested dozens of people involved in the Tibet protests.

China's response to last week's violence -- which it says was orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader -- has sparked international criticism and clouded preparations for the Olympics.

In a phone call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China to show restraint towards protesters. But Yang told her the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, was to blame for the riots.

"They attempted to exert pressure on the Chinese government, disturb the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sabotage China's social stability and harmony," Yang told her, Xinhua reported.

China says 13 "innocent civilians" died in anti-Chinese riots last week in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, after police broke up earlier peaceful protests led by monks. Exiled Tibetans say as many as 100 Tibetans have died.

Mindful of the international condemnation of its military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989, China says security forces in Lhasa exercised "maximum restraint" and did not use lethal weapons.