Tibet's governor said on Monday that 16 people were killed in violence that broke out in the regional capital, as Chinese troops fanned out to quell protests that have spread to three neighbouring provinces. Exiled Tibetans say as many as 80 people may have died.
Champa Phuntsok gave the official death toll at a news conference called to explain the response to the largest anti-government protests in almost two decades, which have thrown an international spotlight on China's human rights record as it prepares for the Beijing Olympics.
The toll was an update over the government's previous figure of 10 killed.
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Champa Phuntsok, an ethnic Tibetan installed as governor by the Communist government in Beijing, described 13 of the dead as "innocent civilians," and said another three people died jumping out of buildings to avoid arrest. He said dozens of people were injured.
A week of protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa culminated in violence on Friday when Tibetans attacked ethnic Chinese and torched their shops. Unconfirmed reports from Tibetan exile groups say the violence on Friday and ensuing government crackdown may have left as many as 80 people dead.
The government has said the violence was engineered by the government in exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, though it has provided no evidence of that.
"Calm has returned to Lhasa and society has returned to a state of normality," Champa Phuntsok said.
"This was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique and it was created under the collusion of Tibet independence separatist forces both inside and outside China," he said without giving any details.
"Those activities were aimed at splitting the country, were aimed at undermining ethnic community and undermining social harmony and stability in Tibet."
In a sign of the seriousness of the situation, Tibet's hardline Communist Party secretary Zhang Qingli - the region's most powerful official - returned to Lhasa over the weekend and met with security forces, the official Tibet Daily newspaper said. Zhang had been attending the national legislature's annual session in Beijing, which ends Tuesday.
The Tibet Daily quoted Zhang as saying security forces "carried out a frontal assault against the thugs" who rioted in Lhasa.
State television broadcast extensive footage of torched buildings and streets strewn with burned and looted goods, underscoring the government's drive to emphasize the destructive nature of the protests without discussing their underlying causes.
Speaking to reporters in India on Sunday, the Dalai Lama reiterated his commitment to non-violence but refused to condemn the protests and called for an international probe into the government crackdown.
Champa Phuntsok said that people were hacked and burned to death during the violence, and that the mob poured gasoline and set people on fire and cut a piece of flesh out of a policeman's buttocks.
He said the security forces used great restraint and did not carry or use weapons. He denied that 80 people had been killed.
The government has issued an end-of-Monday deadline for people involved in the violent protests to surrender, saying they would face severe punishment otherwise. Champa Phuntsok said he did not know if anyone had turned themselves in.
He said the People's Liberation Army was not involved until Sunday and Monday when they helped clean up Lhasa after the violence.
Over the weekend, the demonstrations widened from Lhasa to Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces, forcing authorities to mobilize security forces across a broad expanse of western China.
A witness in Sichuan province said Monday that government troops had moved into a county in Aba prefecture, where clashes between monks and police broke out on Sunday with reports of as many as seven killed.
"There are troops that moved in Maerkang County," said a clerk at the Jinchuan Hotel, who asked not to be further identified.
"There is regulation from our higher authorities that the media should not cover this. We will provide detailed information when it is quelled," said the man who refused to give his name.
Complicating Beijing's task, the protests fall two weeks before China's celebrations for the Beijing Olympics kick off with the start of the torch relay, which will pass through Tibet.
The president of the International Olympic Committee expressed concern on Sunday about the crackdown in Tibet and neighbouring provinces.
"We are very concerned," Jacques Rogge told reporters during a one-day visit to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Rogge has flatly rejected the idea of boycotting the Summer Games in Beijing over the violence in China, saying it would only penalize athletes.
The unrest in Tibet began March 10 on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule of the region. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before communist troops entered in 1950.