Uneasy calm follows Tibet rampage

CHENGDU, China — China warned Saturday that it would hunt down the "violent saboteurs" who ransacked part of the capital of Tibet in a spasm of hate-filled ethnic violence that took at least 10 lives, and perhaps many more.

An uneasy calm hung over Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Riot police used tear gas to disperse scattered looters. Few people dared go out along deserted streets still littered with the hulks of burnt cars and motorcycles.

The local Tibetan government blamed "law-breaking monks and nuns" for the rampage a day earlier, in which Chinese state media said rioters set at least 160 fires, 40 of them major. Rioters also smashed numerous vehicles, and ransacked some 100 stores, the state Xinhua news agency said.

While a protest march of Tibetan monks was reported in one other region, riot police held Lhasa under a virtual lockdown. News reports said foreign tourists were being ushered out of the city to outlying hotels or directly to the airport.

Both Chinese officials and Tibetan leaders sought to cast blame for the worst violence in Tibet in nearly two decades, aware that China's reputation in the run-up to the summer Olympic Games in Beijing could be affected by how it handles the unrest.

The state Xinhua news agency said those killed in Friday's unrest were mainly business people — including two hotel employees and two shop owners — who had been "burnt to death." The exiled Tibetan government in northern India cited unconfirmed sources saying about 100 people were believed dead.

China hung the blame for the rioting on the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists who lives in exile in India, despite his calls for calm and his denials that he seeks to split Tibet from China.

"The plot of the separatists will fail," Qiangba Puncog, the chairman of the Tibet government, said in Beijing. "This is very clear: This is a separatist Dalai Lama clique, inside and outside the country."

Chinese authorities in Tibet gave rioters until midnight Monday to surrender.

A statement by the local judicial officials in Lhasa said it would "severely punish" those who don't comply, once they are found.

Foreign journalists are not permitted to go to Tibet unless given a permit and operating under tight restrictions, making firsthand reporting difficult. The limitations on information allowed China to stick to its claim that the rioting was the work of a few troublemakers, mostly Buddhist clergy under the sway of the Dalai Lama, rather than massive discontent among ethnic Tibetans over China's rule since 1951.

Friday's large-scale rioting came after four days of largely peaceful protests, mainly among monks and nuns marching near three monasteries in the Lhasa area.

China's state television broadcast footage of rioters throwing bricks at police, smashing windows, and overturning vehicles. It also showed black smoke wafting over the city.

Puncog, the top government official in Tibet, said security forces did not fire guns to quell the riots.

His claim drew ridicule from a Tibetan overseas human rights group.

"How can so many people die without there being gunfire?" asked Tashi Choephel of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, an advocacy group in Dharamsala, India. "They are lying about the number of casualties and the magnitude of the protests." He described the rioting as a result of "a bursting of pent-up emotions" among ordinary Tibetans weary of Chinese rule.

Lhasa residents largely hunkered down at home.

"I dare not go out on the street. Our company called every employee warning us not to go out," said Dang Wa, a 58-year-old Tibetan employee of China Telecom Lhasa Company.

A Han Chinese shop owner, who identified herself only by her surname Jiao, noted the disarray.

"Lhasa is messy and if you plan to go there, just postpone your trip," she said.

Rioters set a mosque on fire in Lhasa late Friday, Xinhua said, although it did not identify the mosque. Tibetan rioters likely targeted the mosque because traders of the Hui Muslim minority have entered Tibet in large numbers in recent years along with Han Chinese, weakening the Tibetan hold on the region.

Amid the turmoil in Tibet, China's legislature gave President Hu Jintao five more years as the nation's president and military chief at a parliamentary ceremony in Beijing. Hu's likely successor, Xi Jinping, was elected vice president, further assuring the likelihood that he will come to power in 2013.

Hu was Communist Party secretary of Tibet in 1989 when he declared martial law to quell the last outbreak of major rioting there.

Elsewhere in China, Tibetan monks at the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, Gansu Province, marched for a second straight day. Police later broke up the march with volleys of tear gas, witnesses said.

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