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Tibetans dispute official claim of no riot deaths

Tibetans in China's tense southwestern province of Sichuan said they believed several people had been killed in anti-Chinese riots there this week.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported overnight that police shot and wounded four protesters this week in a heavily ethnic Tibetan part of the province, where protests broke out after anti-Chinese riots in neighboring Tibet a week ago.

The unrest has alarmed China, keen to look its best in the run-up to the August 8-24 Olympic Games in Beijing when it hopes to show the world that it has arrived as a world power.

Tensions remain high in Tibet, Sichuan and other neighboring areas where the government has poured in troops.

Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in Sichuan and a gateway to the restive region, was crowded with troops, some on patrol, some loudly practicing martial arts moves in the town square.

Students at the local Tibetan-language school were locked in unless they had special permission to leave. Drivers said they were unwilling to travel into tense mountain towns.

“I'm in this to make money, but no matter how much you pay me I won't go that way,” one Kangding driver said.

Two residents of Aba prefecture, where rioting began on Sunday, told Reuters they believed several died when police fired on protesters attacking officials and state buildings.

“Everyone here believes that our people died, maybe 10 or more,” said one ethnic Tibetan resident.

“I'm not a supporter of violence and I oppose attacking people just because they're Han,” he said, referring to the country's majority Han Chinese population.

Another Tibetan man said he hid in his home during the riot.

“I'm sure people died. We all know,” he said in a brief telephone conversation. “We don't dare go out. They are arresting many people after what happened.”

Both men asked not to be named, fearing punishment for talking to reporters. Other residents refused to say anything.

Troops and anti-riot police have set up roadblocks and are keeping out foreigners.

“With all the troops that have gone up there, it's under control now. They have tried for all those years to gain independence and failed. So it won't happen. Not now - it's impossible,” said Ran Hongkui, a Chinese shopkeeper on the road between Kangding and Chengdu where convoy after convoy of armed police has passed.

Radio Free Asia, a US-funded broadcaster, said on Thursday up to 2,000 Buddhist monks and laypeople continued to protest in Huangnan Prefecture, Sichuan. The report could not be verified.

Authorities said they had arrested dozens of people involved in the Tibet protests.

More than 170 rioters have handed themselves in, the report said, offering a phone number for locals to inform on suspected protesters in return for secrecy and rewards.

State-run Tibet television continued to show footage of last week's riots, including scenes of maroon-robed monks hurling rocks at police, protesters kicking in shop fronts and plumes of black smoke from burned-out cars in the local capital Lhasa.

Its newsreaders echoed the central government insistence that the violence was orchestrated by exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, and his “Dalai clique” to agitate for independence and embarrass Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games.

The 72-year-old monk, who fled Tibet in 1959, says he is against the violence, only wants greater autonomy for his homeland and is willing to travel to Beijing for talks.

The Chinese press never gives the Dalai Lama sympathetic treatment, but has recently intensified its vilification of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Tibet Daily called him “a faithful tool of Western anti-China forces, the general source of social chaos in Tibet.”

And in a commentary the previous day, it wrote: “Since defecting abroad, the Dalai clique and its hangers-on have... never given up on hoping to restore their corrupt, dissolute theocracy and their privileges as feudal rulers and serf masters.”

China's response to the rioting has triggered international criticism and some calls to boycott the Games opening ceremony.

In a phone call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China to show restraint towards protesters. Yang told her the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, was to blame for the riots.

“They attempted to exert pressure on the Chinese government, disturb the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sabotage China's social stability and harmony,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.

China says 13 “innocent civilians” died in anti-Chinese riots last week in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, after police broke up earlier peaceful protests led by monks. Exiled Tibetans say as many as 100 Tibetans have died. (Reuters)