China vows to compensate victims in Lhasa violence

 

China offered to pay compensation to the families of the civilians it says died in violence in the Tibetan capital this month, as Beijing kept up an intense propaganda campaign in the wake of the unrest.


Pressure grew from abroad for China to respect human rights in its response to continuing pockets of unrest over the past two weeks in Tibet and neighbouring areas, with US President George W. Bush calling on Chinese leaders to talk to representatives of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The rash of anti-Chinese protests, and China's response, have become a focus of global concern months before the Olympics.
 
Beijing hopes the games that start in August will be a chance to showcase progress in the world's fourth biggest economy.

By the government's count, 18 civilians were killed during anti-Chinese violence in Lhasa on March 14, when demonstrators hurled rocks at police and burned and looted stores and homes.

Their families would each receive 200,000 yuan ($28,530), a notice from Tibet's regional government said.

Anyone injured in the chaos that engulfed in Lhasa after days of Buddhist monk-led demonstrations was entitled to free medical care, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted it as saying.

"Measures are to be taken to help people repair their homes and shops damaged in the unrest or to build new ones," it said.
 
The Tibet government-in-exile, established when the Dalai Lama fled to India after an abortive uprising in 1959, has estimated there have been 140 deaths in the violence.

Since the unrest, China has been on a propaganda offensive, attacking foreign news organisations for biased reporting, quoting Buddhist clergy condemning the riots, praising the authorities for exercising restraint and highlighting the material gains the ruling Communist Party has brought to Tibet.

It has also pinned blame for the unrest on the "Dalai clique" -- meaning the Dalai Lama and his supporters -- who it says want to disrupt the Olympics and seek Tibet independence.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk, however, says he only wants greater autonomy for Tibet within China. On Friday, he said China's media were using "deceit and distortion" in coverage of the protests in Tibet and feared this could cause racial tension and lead to unpredictable long-term consequences.

At a news conference in Delhi on Saturday, the Dalai Lama derided Chinese government descriptions of his supporters as a "clique" and accused Beijing of pumping out propaganda that exaggerates Tibetan violence while downplaying the harshness of the Chinese reaction.

"Some respected, neutral people should go (to Tibet), investigate thoroughly with complete freedom," he told the news conference.

SIT DOWN AND TALK

Bush urged China to exercise restraint and urged the Chinese government, led by President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao, to meet the Dalai Lama' representatives.

"It's in his country's interest that he sit down again with representatives of the Dalai Lama ... and that we urge restraint," Bush told a news conference on Friday.

China has said it is open to discussions as long as the Dalai Lama stops supporting Tibet and Taiwan independence, and ends his support for the protests and anti-Olympics activities.

Underscoring US concerns, the first senior US official scheduled to meet Chinese leaders since the protests erupted this month, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, will raise Tibet in Beijing next week, a treasury official said.

A US Embassy official who went to Tibet on a trip for diplomats on Friday and Saturday urged the Chinese government to grant the media and foreign envoys more access, the embassy said in a statement on Saturday.

"The trip was heavily scheduled, and neither the US nor other participants were able to deviate from the official itinerary," the statement says.

The Olympic flame will be handed to Chinese Games organisers in Athens on Sunday, and Tibetan exiles have vowed to stage protests. Activists disrupted the torch-lighting ceremony earlier this week. The torch is due to arrive in Beijing on Monday.

China has flooded the region with troops and reports have emerged of mass detentions, monastery and school lockdowns, search-and-seizure operations and rights abuses.

Foreign reporters have been blocked from travelling independently to Tibet and Tibetan-populated parts of the neighbouring provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai, some of which have also been rocked by protests and unrest.

Earlier this week, the government took select foreign media to Lhasa for a three-day tour to highlight the wreckage, showcase the victims and give the impression that the city was returning to normal.

Journalists reported a heavy police presence in the city, and said they were unable to visit major monasteries and were followed wherever they went.

But the plan backfired when about 30 monks at a central temple stormed an official news briefing to complain about lack of religious freedom and voice support for the Dalai Lama.

A Chinese official said the monks would not be punished, but Xinhua ran an editorial that slammed the youthful monks for being ignorant about life in Tibet before the Chinese army "liberated" the region in 1950. (Reuters)
 
 
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