BEIJING – China acknowledged for the first time today that anti-government riots that rocked Tibet last week have spread to other provinces, while communist authorities announced the first group of arrests in connection with the violence.
The moves came as the government sent armed police into far-flung towns and villages to reassert control in the Tibetan areas of western China as sporadic demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet continued to flare up.
A top Beijing Olympics official vowed the unrest would not disrupt plans for the torch relay preceding this summer’s Olympics in Beijing. One leg of the relay is to pass through Tibet, taking the flame to the peak of Mount Everest sometime in May.
The official Xinhua News Agency said there were “riots in Tibetan-inhabited areas in the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, both neighboring Tibet.” It blamed both incidents on supporters of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
The Xinhua report confirms previous claims by Tibetan exile activist groups that the protests had spread. Foreign journalists have been banned from going to Tibet and stopped by police from entering areas in other provinces with large Tibetan populations.
The Tibet Daily reported that 24 people had been arrested for endangering state security, and for other “grave crimes” for their roles in last Friday’s riots in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa.
“This incident has severely disrupted the social order, harmed people’s life and property, and these illegal acts organized, pre-planned, and well-designed by the Dalai clique,” Lhasa deputy chief prosecutor Xie Yanjun was quoted as saying.
“We have to strike the aggressive criminals on the basis of facts guided by law,” he said.
Xinhua said late Wednesday that 170 people had surrendered for their role in last week’s riots in Lhasa. China says 16 people were killed, denying claims by Tibetan exile groups that 80 died.
Despite an expanding police crackdown, Tibetans have continued to take to the streets to call for Tibet’s independence and the return of the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader.