(AFP) – Mar 20, 2008
DHARAMSHALA, India (AFP) — The Dalai Lama said Thursday he feared "a lot of casualties" from China's crackdown on protests in Tibet, and said again he was ready to meet Chinese leaders to discuss the crisis.
"We don't know exact numbers. Some say six, some say 100, but places have been cut off. There are movements of Chinese troops. I am really worried a lot of casualties have happened," the Tibetan spiritual leader said.
The Dalai Lama's northern India-based government-in-exile has already said it has confirmed 99 deaths in a Chinese crackdown, but that it has also been struggling to get more information from the isolated region.
China has rejected the higher death tolls, saying on Monday that Tibetan rioters killed 13 "innocent civilians" during violent protests in Lhasa, and that it did not use lethal force to quell the rioting.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland after the 1959 uprising, of masterminding the latest unrest, a charge the Buddhist monk strongly denies.
The 72-year-old said he was willing to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao if he got "concrete indications" Beijing was ready to talk about the future of Tibet, which China annexed decades ago and where resentment to Chinese rule runs deep.
He told reporters he has "always been ready" to meet the Chinese leadership, although he acknowledged the prospect of travelling to Beijing at the moment was "not practical."
"Still, if concrete indications come from China, sure I will be happy," he said. "If there are concrete indications, I am ready, I am happy, after this crisis -- in a few weeks, in a few months."
On Wednesday he asked world leaders to help lobby for dialogue and to press China to show "restraint" in dealing with the violence that has erupted in the run-up to China's hosting of the Olympic Games in August.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Tuesday that Beijing was willing to hold talks, but only after the Dalai Lama gave up what is viewed in China as a campaign for Tibetan independence.
On Thursday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman stuck to the country's hard line, referring to the Dalai Lama as a double-dealing "splittist."
The Dalai Lama has responded by appealing for calm and asserting that he is not out to wrest Tibet from Chinese control and change what he calls the "Middle Way" policy, which does not call for independence from China.
"I am totally committed to a mutually beneficial solution. I have repeated one thousand times I am not seeking independence," he said, while adding the autonomy he wanted "should not be a mere word on paper."
"We are seeking the preservation of Tibetan culture," the exiled leader said.
"China must realise that in Tibetan areas, there is so much strong resentment. It's not too late. I am fully committed to eliminating negative feeling among Tibetans, fully committed to building a happy society."
The crisis has left the Dalai Lama, a powerful rallying figure for the six million Tibetans living in exile or in their homeland, facing criticism from more radical exiles.
On Tuesday he offered to resign as leader of the exiled Tibetan movement if the violence continued, and he repeated his offer on Thursday.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet was given sanctuary in the northern Indian mountain town of Dharamshala, where he set up a government-in-exile, after the failed uprising nearly 50 years ago.
According to officials, at least 100,000 Tibetans live in exile in India which, after fighting a war with China in 1962, barred the Dalai Lama from using its soil as a springboard for a Tibetan independence movement.
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