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Dalai Lama says he may quit

Tibet's spiritual leader says worse violence there would leave him no choice. China lays the blame at his feet.

March 19, 2008|Ching-Ching Ni and Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writers

BEIJING — The Dalai Lama threatened Tuesday to resign as the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile if the violence that has erupted in his homeland over the last week spirals out of control.

The spiritual leader of the Himalayan people made the statement on the day China's top leadership lashed out at him, charging that he had orchestrated Tibet's worst anti-China riots in two decades to sabotage this summer's Beijing Olympics.

"Please help stop violence from Chinese side and also from Tibetan side," the Dalai Lama pleaded before reporters in Dharamsala, India, the base of his government. "If things become out of control, then my only option is to completely resign."

Though few believe the man revered by followers as a god-king is prepared step down, or that it is even possible given his title, there is a sense that his advocacy of nonviolence and compromise has run up against a younger generation of Tibetans looking for a new way out of the long-standing impasse with Beijing. A 6-year-old boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism disappeared years ago.

"His holiness is not young. Time is running out for Tibet. If China keeps on doing what it's [been] doing for the last 50 years, there is this thinking from the young that maybe his holiness' patience is not the solution," said Dalha Tsering, campaign coordinator for the Tibetan Community in Britain. "That, however, doesn't mean their allegiance is minimizing; all it means is they are frustrated."

Chinese troops seized control of Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama, who fled the region after a failed rebellion against Beijing in 1959, says he is not seeking independence for his homeland but greater autonomy within China for the Tibetan people.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday accused him of hypocrisy but left open the door for dialogue if the Dalai Lama recognized Tibet as part of China and did not support the independence movement in Taiwan, which Beijing maintains is part of China.

"You should not only look at what he says but what he does," said Wen, who maintained that Chinese authorities had reacted with extreme restraint to the riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and had long worked to spur the Tibetan economy and support its culture and people.

Critics say China has restricted news coverage of brutal security measures it has used to suppress pro-Tibet demonstrations.

"I know a relative who was shot three times because he was holding a Dalai Lama photo and marching toward the army," Tsering said. "If the world doesn't speak up, it will be another Burma" (also known as Myanmar).

Despite Wen's charge that the Tibetan leader was seeking to sabotage the Olympics, the Dalai Lama early this week said China deserved to host the Games and that they should not be boycotted.

As the Chinese military fanned out across western China in areas populated by Tibetans and began making arrests after the violence broke out Friday, sympathy rallies spread in and outside China.

Chinese state television reported Tuesday that 100 people had turned themselves in to police for their roles in "beating, smashing, looting and arson." This followed a midnight deadline issued by authorities for rioters to surrender themselves in exchange for more lenient treatment.

In India, more than 2,000 people gathered Tuesday and called for a United Nations investigation of the reported killings of protesters by Chinese security forces. In Brussels, several hundred demonstrators rallied outside the headquarters of the European Union, some waving flags that read, "Stop Beijing Olympics game of death."

Critics of China's actions in Tibet say they are disappointed that the International Olympic Committee has not done more to hold China accountable.

"If the IOC wants to retain its credibility, it has to change its policies. Otherwise they only encourage China to go on with their repression," said Wangpo Tethong, president of the National Olympics Committee of Tibet, which has fought for the right to send a separate team of Tibetan athletes to the Games.

"Now there is no way we can take part in the Games," he said in announcing the group's plans to withdraw its application in protest.

On Tuesday, the rights group Reporters Without Borders called on world leaders to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

"China has not respected any of the promises it made in 2001, when it was chosen to host the next Olympics," the media organization said. As the fallout from the Tibetan protests continues to dog China, another fire is burning in its backyard. Taiwan is holding a presidential election Saturday amid debate about a simultaneous referendum on whether the island should seek membership in the U.N. under its own name.

The measure is seen as a challenge to Beijing's claims to the island, which has been ruled by its own government since the communists seized control of the mainland in 1949.

To deflect any hint that China may have trouble taming the twin political crises, Wen vowed during his annual meeting with the news media that China's sovereignty was not negotiable and its leaders would fight all moves toward independence by Taiwan and Tibet.

But he did not spell out whether Beijing would consider passage of the referendum provocative enough to warrant the use of force against the island, a move it previously has threatened.


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