China softens Dalai Lama stand

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 1.04.08

Beijing, March 31 (Agencies): China today gave the first sign that it is softening its hardline stand towards the Dalai Lama by asking him to use his “influence” to stop violence in Tibet.

Speaking in Laos after the Olympic torch arrived in the southeast Asian country, China Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said: “The channels for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama are always open.”

“As long as the Dalai Lama abandons the claim for ‘Tibet Independence’, uses his influence to stop the violence in Tibet and recognises both Tibet and Taiwan as inseparable parts of China, Beijing will resume talks with him,” Wen was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Wen’s comments are seen as an apparent softening of China’s stand towards the 72-year-old exiled leader. The Chinese Premier’s statement comes after the US and other western powers pressured Beijing to talk to the Dalai Lama.

In a conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao last week, President George Bush pushed very hard on the need for restraint and urged Beijing to hold talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

Suspects arrested

A monk holds a candle at a rally for Tibet in Seoul. (Reuters)

Suspects who set fire to shops in Tibet, causing the deaths of 12 people during anti-government violence, have been taken into custody, China’s state media said today.

They were responsible for deadly arson attacks on three shops in Lhasa — including a clothing outlet where five young women were burned to death — and one in nearby Dagze county, the Tibet Daily newspaper said.

A total of 414 suspects were in custody in connection with the March 14 riots and another 298 people turned themselves in, the report said, according to Jiang Zaiping, vice-chief of the Public Security Bureau in Lhasa. It did not say how many suspects were involved in the four arson cases or give any other details.

In its evening newscast, state television showed police officers escorting handcuffed young men and women. Some stood in line to sign or fingerprint what appeared to be official documents. In another scene, a group of young men stood in a row, heads bowed and hands by their sides.

An official who answered the telephone at the Lhasa bureau said no senior officials were available to give details. He refused to give his name.

The protests began peacefully on March 10 when Tibetan monks from Lhasa’s main monasteries marched to commemorate a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. The demonstrations exploded into violence four days later.

The Lhasa uprising also sparked similar actions in recent weeks by ethnic Tibetans in neighbouring provinces, becoming the most sustained challenge to Beijing’s rule in the Himalayan region since 1989.

In Nepal, police broke up a protest by more than 100 Tibetans in front of the Chinese embassy’s visa office in Kathmandu and arrested all the participants, who chanted “Free Tibet, stop killing in Tibet”.

If the Dalai Lama “really wishes to be a simple Buddhist monk, it’s high time for him to stop playing politics and cheating people, westerners in particular, with his hypocritical ‘autonomy’ claims”, said a Xinhua commentary.

Also today, the Tibetan regional government announced the families of two of the women killed in the arson cases were given compensation of 200,000 yuan ($28,170) each, Xinhua said. The government had promised to give the same amount of compensation to the families of 18 civilians killed.