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China Raises Official Tibet Protest Death Toll


China has raised its official death toll from riots in Lhasa, Friday, which occurred when days of peaceful Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in Tibet turned violent. They now admit that 13 people have died. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is stepping up its war of words against Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Electricity is back on in Lhasa and Chinese officials say they have restored security to the city.

Tibet Governor Champa Phuntsok is an ethnic Tibetan installed by the Chinese government. He told reporters in Beijing Tibetan rioters went on a rampage in Lhasa, Friday, and killed 13 innocent people.

He says the riots were aimed at splitting the country, sabotaging unity and harming the social stability of Tibet.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has been trying to negotiate autonomy for the remote Himalayan region within China. But Chinese authorities repeatedly accuse him of seeking independence for Tibet.

From his home in exile in Dharmsala, India, Sunday, the Dalai Lama stopped short of sending any direct message to protesters within China. But he says he is still committed to peaceful demonstration.

"As far as non-violent principle is concerned, I am fully committed," he said. "If Tibetans use violence, follow violence, I cannot agree."

The Dalai Lama's non-violent methods have come into question in recent years by younger Tibetans who are increasingly frustrated with Chinese rule in Tibet.

On the streets of Beijing, it is not easy to find anyone willing to talk about the recent events in Lhasa.

One typical woman says she is not too clear on the situation.

She says she is confident the Chinese government has the ability to deal with the problem.

One man knew about it from watching a report on state-run television, but had no comment and quickly walked away.

Another woman, an ethnic Tibetan, says she does not believe the government's accusations against the Dalai Lama.

She says she does not always believe everything the government tells her. She says she understands the sentiments of the rioters in Lhasa, but that she would not have followed them.

Chinese authorities have given demonstrators until midnight Monday to surrender or face harsh punishment.

Wenran Jiang, a political science professor at Canada's University of Alberta, says the Chinese leadership is faced with a dilemma in deciding its next steps.

"I'm pretty sure at this exact moment, the examination of the situation is very intensely under way, and probably some internal debates," he said. " What is to the Chinese authorities' best interest at this moment is to minimize any damage to their image prior to the Olympics."

China hosts the Olympics in August.

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