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British PM: China Agrees To Tibet Talks

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said he is prepared to hold discussions on Tibet with the Dalai Lama.

Brown said he spoke with Wen early Wednesday to call for restraint after violent protests marking the biggest challenge to Chinese rule in Tibet in almost two decades.

"I made it absolutely clear that there had to be an end to violence in Tibet," Brown told a lawmaker in the House of Commons.

"The premier told me that, subject to two things the Dalai Lama has already said - that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he refrains from violence - that he would be prepared to enter a dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Brown said.

Meanwhile Chinese troops and police tightened their hold on Tibetan areas Wednesday in a hardening clampdown against scattered protests while the government insisted anti-government riots in Lhasa would not deter plans to take the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest.

Foreigners were banned from entering ethnic Tibetan areas, and journalists were escorted away and told to fly out of one potential trouble spot in Sichuan province, which neighbors Tibet.

State media reported more than 100 people had surrendered to police in and around Tibet's regional capital of Lhasa, where peaceful protests against Chinese rule turned violent last Friday.

The expanding clampdown comes as the government tries to keep control of worrisome areas in the wake of the Lhasa rioting in which the government says 16 people were killed and at least 300 buildings torched. It denies claims by overseas Tibetan groups that 80 people were killed.

Chinese officials also launched new broadsides at the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, whose supporters they accuse of organizing the violent clashes in hopes of sabotaging this summer's Beijing Olympics and bolstering their campaign for Tibetan independence.

Security was ratcheted up in traditionally Tibetan areas of surrounding provinces, where more than half of China's 5.4 million Tibetans live. A hotel receptionist in Aba in northern Sichuan province said she heard gunshots on Tuesday as Tibetans poured into the streets. Overseas pro-Tibetan groups said a dozen or more people were killed by troops in the are on Sunday, claims that could not immediately be verified.

The woman, who refused to give her name for fear of retribution by authorities, said the area had since been sealed off under a curfew and residents ordered to stay inside.

In an echo of tactics applied earlier in Lhasa, police in Aba were driving through town broadcasting calls for protesters to surrender, promising them leniency if they did, the London-based Free Tibet Campaign reported. Authorities were also offering rewards for weapons turned in, it said, citing local monks and other sources.

The protests marked the biggest challenge in almost two decades to Chinese rule in the Himalayan region, which People's Liberation Army forces occupied in 1950 after several decades of effective independence.

Initially led by Buddhist monks, the demonstrations began peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, before spiraling out of control.

"The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast," Tibet's Communist Party chief Zhang Qingli was quoted as telling officials. "We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dali clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy."

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet during the 1959 uprising, has urged his followers to remain peaceful, saying he would resign as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if violence got out of control.

The protests have focused world attention on China's human rights record ahead of the Olympics, prompting discussion of a possible boycott of the Games' Aug. 8 opening ceremony and calls from U.S. officials and others for China to address Tibetans' grievances and engage in direct talks with the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

But a Chinese Olympic official said Wednesday that the violence would not interrupt plans to take the Olympic torch relay route into Tibet and to the top of Mount Everest.

"We know the incidents are the last thing we want to see, but we firmly believe that the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region will be able ensure the stability of Lhasa and Tibet, and also be able to ensure the smooth going of the torch relay in Tibet," Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, said at a news conference.

Olympic committees in other countries have spoken out against a boycott of the games, but some athletes have voiced concern.

Athens 2004 Olympic swimming finalist Michelle Engelsman of Australia told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television that the protests and crackdown had added to her concerns about possibly coming to Beijing.

"To be going into a country that has massive rioting and death going on, that's definitely something to be paying attention to and be concerned," she said.


Lhasa was reportedly calm under a tight security presence that moved in over the weekend.

An employee of the local Coca-Cola bottler, who declined to give his name, said a small demonstration was held in the city on Tuesday, but the protesters fled when troops arrived.

He said the company had conducted no business since Friday when customers, including a wholesaler, shops and supermarkets, had been attacked and looted.

Protests spilled over from Tibet into traditionally Tibetan areas of surrounding provinces where more than half of China's 5.4 million Tibetans live.

Police and soldiers set up checkpoints across a wide swath of western China and officers turned back an Associated Press photographer traveling west from Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu near the famed Wolong panda preserve.

Officers said an order was issued Monday barring foreigners from all Tibetan areas in the province for 10 days.

An official with the Sichuan Foreign Affairs Department said no official notice had been issued, but said she had heard of two cases of police turning reporters away.

"I wouldn't suggest trying again," said the woman, who like many Chinese government workers, gave only her surname, Yuan.

China imposed a ban on tour groups traveling to Tibet last week, dealing a blow to the region's fast-growing tourist industries.

Officers were also seen pulling Tibetans in traditional costume off buses leaving Tibetan regions, searching their luggage and questioning them. It was not clear whether they were allowed to continue their journeys.

On Tuesday, thousands of Tibetans flooded the streets of Seda, in Sichuan province, according to the Tibet Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

Activist groups also circulated graphic photographs of protesters who they said were massacred Sunday by Chinese police at Kirti monastery, in Sichuan's Aba prefecture, known as Ngawa in Tibetan. The images showed several men who were apparently shot and bodies covered in blood. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the photographs.

On Tuesday in neighboring Gansu province, Tibetans on horseback and motorcycles attacked a government compound near the town of Hezuo, but were beaten back by police wielding clubs.

Protesters lowered the Chinese flag and raised the snow lion emblem of independent Tibet in its place, but quickly dispersed when paramilitary reinforcements arrived.

There were no reports of serious injuries or arrests.

While the crackdown has spurred outrage and protests overseas, most Chinese appeared to back the government, underscoring the effectiveness of its strategy of catering to nationalism by portraying its critics as traitors and separatists.

Insults, hate-speech and threats directed at Tibetans could be found on many online forums, and overseas groups reported unconfirmed attacks by members of the Chinese public on monks and ordinary Tibetans in Chengdu and other cities.

The government has, meanwhile, tightly controlled reporting on the events, seeking to ensure that its version of events is the only one told.

A woman reached by phone at Lhasa's Religious Affairs Bureau said staff had been told to "tell the media we have nothing to say."