By Ian Ransom and Chris Buckley
BEIJING, March 17 – Ethnic Tibetan students staged a candle-lit vigil in Beijing on Monday, saying it was to pray for the dead, after warning anti-Chinese rioters in the Tibetan capital to surrender.
Police kept reporters well away from the peaceful protest by dozens of apparently ethnic Tibetan students gathered inside the Central University for Nationalities.
It was a small, rare show of defiance in the host city of this year’s Olympic Games, where Communist Party authorities are especially eager to prevent public shows of dissent.
“It was only to pray for the souls of the dead,” said an ethnic Tibetan student from northwest China’s Gansu province, who was kept away from the sit-in by security guards.
The vigil was broken up by authorities hours before a deadline in Tibet’s regional capital, Lhasa, for protesters who rioted through the city on Friday to hand themselves in to police by Monday night or face harsher treatment afterward.
Exiled representatives of Tibet in Dharamsala in India on Sunday put the death toll in Friday’s protests against Chinese rule at 80.
Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet regional government, said only 13 “innocent civilians” had been killed and dozens of security personnel injured.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “increasingly concerned” about reports of violence and loss of life in Tibet and urged restraint from authorities there.
“I’m increasingly concerned about the tension and reports of violence and loss of life in Tibet and elsewhere,” Ban told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
“At this time I urge restraint on the part of the authorities and call on all concerned to avoid further confrontation and violence.”
A Tibetan shopkeeper near Lhasa’s marketplace, badly hit by the violence, said he had not heard of anyone surrendering to the police or informing on suspected rioters.
“We are just waiting for the time to pass,” he said.
As the deadline approached, a Chinese spokesman told reporters his government would not compromise with Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, or reexamine its policies in Tibet.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the often bloody unrest had been organized by the Dalai Lama’s followers at home and abroad.
“It’s not an ethnic issue, not a religious issue or a cultural one,” he said. “At the root, it’s the fundamental problem of the Dalai clique seeking to separate Tibet from China.”
The Dalai Lama says he wants autonomy for Tibet within China but not outright independence, and he has strongly rejected the allegation that he launched the protests.
RESTRAINT AND TROOP CONVOYS
China said it had shown great restraint in the face of violent protests by Tibetans and Lhasa was returning to order.
Troops poured into areas neighboring Tibet which are largely inhabited by ethnic Tibetans but ethnic Tibetan people there said angry anti-Chinese demonstrations were still sporadically erupting.
An ethnic Tibetan in remote, mountainous Aba prefecture in Sichuan province said fresh protests flared near two Tibetan schools on Monday, with hundreds of students facing police and troops.
About 40 students from a high school for Tibetans in Maertang county, Aba, were beaten and arrested for protesting, the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy later said. Repeated calls to the school went unanswered.
The resident, who asked not to be identified, said 18 people, including Buddhist monks and students, had been killed when troops opened fire on Sunday. Earlier a policeman was burned to death, he said. His account could not be immediately verified.
The violence of the past week is likely to weigh uncomfortably on the Chinese state, which is anxious to polish its image in the build-up to the Games.
“If the Tibetans in Lhasa take to the streets again in large numbers and really challenge the Chinese authorities, I think we’ll see a very harsh crackdown,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a political scientist at the University of Michigan.
The European Union has called on both authorities and protesters to refrain from violence and said a boycott of the Olympics would not be the right answer.
Russia said it hoped China would do what was necessary to curtail “unlawful actions” in Tibet. A brief Russian Foreign Ministry statement made no criticism of Beijing.
There have been daily pro-Tibet protests around the world since last Monday. On Sunday, French police used tear gas against around 500 demonstrators at the Chinese embassy in Paris, and there were incidents at missions in New York and Australia.
“We strongly condemn the violent action of Tibet independence activists,” spokesman Liu said, denouncing attacks on its missions abroad.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and set up a government-in-exile in Dharamsala in northern India.
Spokesman Liu said the riots were a blow to the Dalai Lama’s claim to support peaceful protest. “His act is getting harder and harder to keep up,” Liu said.
(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim and Lindsay Beck in Beijing, Jonathan Allen in Dharamsala, Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Claudia Parsons at the United Nations in New York; editing by Nick Macfie, Andrew Roche and Eric Walsh)