Tibet's Courts Clamp Down

Tibetans accused of rioting and protesting against Chinese rule will face swift trials and harsh sentences, state media said on Friday, vowing that Communist Party-run courts will back a campaign against the Dalai Lama.

A Chinese online petition condemning Western reports on the unrest claimed to have attracted close to a million signatures.

Tibet's regional capital Lhasa was last month hit by Buddhist monks' protests against Chinese rule that gave way to deadly rioting on March 14, and since then security forces have poured in to reimpose control there and in other restive Tibetan areas.

China says 19 people died in the Lhasa violence but representatives of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, say some 140 people died in the unrest across Tibet and nearby areas.

Chinese officials have accused the Dalai of organising the unrest to press for Tibetan independence ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games in August, and vowed to come down hard on rioters and on protesters supporting him.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly denied the accusations and said he wants true autonomy, but not outright independence, for Tibet.

Now the region's courts have made clear that they will back the crackdown, hand out tough verdicts and reinforce the government's campaign against the Dalai Lama.

Tibet's top law-and-order official Baima Chilin told judges to "use the weapon of the law to attack enemies, punish crime, protect the people and maintain stability," the Tibet Daily reported.

"Use trial according to the law of all the criminals to shock criminality and root out the base of the separatists. Use ample evidence to expose to the world the Dalai clique's lies of peace and non-violence."

Baima Chilin ordered swift trials and said the judges "have the confidence of the Party."

On Thursday, an official Tibet news Web site (www.chinatibetnews.com) said police had caught over 800 people involved in the Lhasa violence and 280 people had turned themselves in. Monks involved in the earlier protests have also been charged.

A major Chinese Internet site also promoted an online petition drive aimed at condemning Western media reports on the unrest.

Chinese officials and state media have criticised Western news reports of the Tibetan unrest, claiming they have misrepresented violence as peaceful protest, vilified efforts to develop Tibet, and echoed false claims of independence advocates.

By Friday evening, Sina.com's online petition condemning Western press reports claimed close to one million signatures, with many signers voicing nationalist outrage.

"Let all the country's people see clearly the imperialist threat from the U.S., Britain and other Western countries," said one comment on the Web site (news.sina.com.cn). "Take the road of reviving the Chinese nation."

Tibet will be reopened to foreign tourists next month after a six-week closure, Chinese official media also said.

The Tibet Autonomous Region government will resume giving foreigners permits on May 1, for the first time since March 16, two days after the deadly riots in Lhasa.

Foreigners have been barred from Tibet tours for their safety and because of riot damage to tourist spots, the English-language China Daily reported, quoting Tibetan regional officials.

Tourism in Tibet took off in the 1980s, supplementing income staples such as herding and infrastructure projects. Boosted by extra flights and a high-elevation railway that opened in 2006, tourist numbers rose 60 percent to 4 million people in 2007, state media said.

(Reporting by the Beijing Bureau; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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