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China offers pay-outs to victims of Tibet riots

/ Source: news services

China offered on Saturday to pay compensation to the families of the civilians it says died in violence in the Tibetan capital this month.

The move came as pressure grew from abroad for China to respect human rights in its response to continuing pockets of unrest over the past two weeks in Tibet and neighboring areas, with President Bush calling on Chinese leaders to talk to representatives of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The rash of anti-Chinese protests, and China's response, have become a focus of global concern months before the Olympics. Beijing hopes the games that start in August will be a chance to showcase progress in the world's fourth-biggest economy.

By the government's count, 18 civilians were killed during anti-Chinese violence in Lhasa on March 14, when demonstrators hurled rocks at police and burned and looted stores and homes.

Their families would each receive $28,530 (200,000 yuan), a notice from Tibet's regional government said.

Free hospital care
Anyone injured in the chaos that engulfed in Lhasa after days of Buddhist monk-led demonstrations was entitled to free medical care, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted it as saying.

"Measures are to be taken to help people repair their homes and shops damaged in the unrest or to build new ones," it said.

The Tibet government-in-exile, established when the Dalai Lama fled to India after an abortive uprising in 1959, has estimated there have been 140 deaths in the violence.

Propaganda offensive
Since the unrest, China has been on a propaganda offensive, attacking foreign news organizations for biased reporting, quoting Buddhist clergy condemning the riots, praising the authorities for exercising restraint and highlighting the material gains the ruling Communist Party has brought to Tibet.

It has also pinned blame for the unrest on the "Dalai clique" — meaning the Dalai Lama and his supporters — who it says want to disrupt the Olympics and seek Tibet independence.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk, however, says he only wants greater autonomy for Tibet within China.

'Demographic aggression' On Saturday, the Dalai Lama said a Chinese government policy of "demographic aggression" was threatening the region's culture. He also warned that China risks instability because of its human rights record.

"China looks stable, but underneath a lot of resentment," he told reporters in India, calling Beijing a police state with a "rule of terror."

Meanwhile, p olice closed off Lhasa’s Muslim quarter on Friday, two weeks after Tibetan rioters burned down the city’s mosque amid the largest anti-Chinese protests in nearly two decades.

Officers blockaded streets into the area, allowing in only residents and worshippers observing the Muslim day of prayer. A heavy security presence lingered in other parts of Lhasa’s old city as cleanup crews waded through the destruction inflicted when days of initially peaceful protests turned deadly on March 14.

Tibetans torched hundreds of buildings and attacked members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group and Chinese Muslims known as Hui, who have dominated commerce in the city.

Bush and Australia’s new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, also urged China’s leaders to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on Friday.

"It is absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet. It's clear-cut; we need to be upfront and absolutely straight about what's going on," Rudd told reporters after he met with Bush at the White House.

EU debates response to crackdown
Urging restraint, Bush said he told Chinese President Hu Jintao this week that "it’s in his country’s interest" that top Chinese leaders meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Foreign ministers from the European Union’s 27 countries met in Slovenia to debate an EU response amid suggestions they consider boycotting the Olympics’ opening ceremony to protest Beijing’s crackdown in Tibet.

Apparently in response to the international pressure, China is allowing a group of foreign diplomats to visit Lhasa on Friday and Saturday. A U.S. diplomat will be on that trip, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson. She had no other details.

Journalists on tightly scripted visit
A small group of foreign journalists was taken to Lhasa on a three-day government-organized trip that ended Friday.

The otherwise tightly scripted visit was disrupted when 30 red-robed monks pushed into a government briefing at the Jokhang Temple Thursday, complaining of a lack of religious freedom and denouncing official claims the Dalai Lama orchestrated the March 14 violence.

“What the government is saying is not true,” one monk shouted.

“They killed many people. They killed many people,” another monk said, referring to Chinese security forces.

China has strenuously argued that the widespread arson and looting were criminal acts orchestrated by separatists, while refusing to discuss the root causes of the anger and alienation blamed for sparking the violence.