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China turned its back Saturday on appeals for dialogue with the Dalai Lama, vowing to smash anti-China forces in Tibet, where it said the death toll in recent unrest had risen to 19.
A day after Beijing launched a manhunt for monks and others it blamed for unrest in Tibet, a defiant editorial in the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party, said opposition to Chinese rule in the Himalayan region must be wiped out.
"China must resolutely crush the conspiracy of sabotage and smash 'Tibet independence forces'," the newspaper said in the editorial, rejecting calls from US, European and Asian leaders for talks.
The commentary accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding protests in Tibet in the hope of undermining the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics and splitting Tibet from China.
It said, "1.3 billion Chinese people, including the Tibetan people, would allow no person or force to undermine the stability of the region."
The commentary effectively rebuffed growing international calls for dialogue to end the crackdown on protests that began last week to mark the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Beijing's rule of Tibet.
Earlier Saturday, China said 18 "innocent" civilians and one police officer were killed in the rioting in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, raising its official death toll from 13.
Tibet's government-in-exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala has put the toll from a week of unrest across the Himalayan region and neighbouring provinces at 99.
On Friday, leaders in Japan and Poland joined an international appeal for restraint and dialogue.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski said China should talk to the Dalai Lama, as it prepared to host the Olympic Games.
"The opening of peaceful dialogue now would have a symbolic dimension, especially in the context of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing," said Kaczynski.
The Olympics is less than five months away and the symbolic start to events leading up to the Beijing Games is scheduled to take place in Greece on Monday when the Olympic flame is ignited.
The so-called sacred Olympic flame is to be lit at a 30-minute ritual in Mount Olympia in Greece in the presence of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, whose organisation has been sharply criticised for its silence on the Tibet crackdown.
Greek police told AFP that "stringent security" would be applied to deter anti-China protests during the ceremony.
After a tour of Greece, the flame will travel to Beijing for an official send-off ceremony on March 31 for the torch relay on its journey across five continents.
It then returns to China in May and the start of a domestic leg that includes three days in Tibet in mid-June after a scheduled stop on the summit of Mount Everest in May.
Pro-Tibet groups have said that they are planning protests along the international route of the torch relay and also in China itself.
With China keen to put its best face forward ahead of the Olympics, US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that China come clean on repression in Tibet.
"The situation in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world," said Pelosi, who was greeted in Dharamshala by thousands of flag-waving Tibetan exiles as she arrived for talks Friday with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
"What is happening, the world needs to know," she said.
However, China has responded to the protests with a massive clampdown on the affected areas, and on Friday released a most-wanted list of 19 people caught on film taking part in the Lhasa riots, amid warnings by activist groups of harsh reprisals.
Authorities have also sought to stop the foreign press from travelling to areas in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces where protests have broken out.
However, foreign journalists, as well as Tibetan exiles and activist groups, have reported a huge military build-up in Lhasa and other hotspots in recent days.
On Thursday, the last foreign journalist known to be in Lhasa reported that thousands of soldiers were on the streets.
"We saw a big convoy of military vehicles with troops in the back," Georg Blume, a journalist with German newspaper Die Zeit, told AFP shortly after being expelled.
For days China denied that it had used lethal force to control the protests but admitted for the first time Thursday that it had fired on demonstrators. State news agency Xinhua reported that Chinese police had wounded four people in "self-defence." (AFP)
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