Dalai Lama Seeks to Temper Tibet Violence
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Today, the Dalai Lama said he would resign as head of the Tibetan government in exile if violence by Tibetans spreads out of control. These comments come after a week when peaceful protests by monks inside Tibet turned into violent riots subsequently put down by Chinese authorities. Earlier today, a deadline passed for rioters to surrender to the authorities in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
NPR's Luisa Lim joins us now from Shanghai.
And, Luisa, could you explain something, how can the Dalai Lama resign?
LUISA LIM: Well, what he means is that he would resign as the political leader as the head of the Tibetan government in exile. Obviously, he's a religious leader as well. He's a living Buddha, and living Buddhas simply can't resign from their position. They don't have that option available.
He has, in the past, made this threat before so it's not new. But this time, obviously, the context is different. And he's facing a situation where there are huge protests around Tibetan - spreading across Tibetan regions which have turned violent. I mean, his position has been that he doesn't want independence for Tibet, just some meaningful degree of autonomy.
But the fact that these protests have turned violent does show that there is some level of frustration among younger Tibetans. That the path of peace that the Dalai Lama have followed for so long, really seems to have borne very little fruit for them in their everyday lives when it comes to any improvement in their living conditions.
NORRIS: Now we'll get to those protests in just a minute. But first, when we talk about a government in exile, are we talking about a government in a traditional sense?
LIM: Yes, I mean, the Dalai Lama has set up a shadow government in the Indian town of Dharamsala, which is in the foothills of the Himalayas. And it is the shadow government, but, obviously, it's a government in exile. It doesn't really hold any real political power, although Tibetans in exile do see it as their true government. But no other governments in the world, I think, that actually recognize it.
NORRIS: Now, do we know what happened since the Chinese government's deadline has passed?
LIM: That's right. There was a deadline for riotists to give themselves up at midnight, on Monday. And there have been reports from a couple of different sources that there's been hundreds of arrests over the past few days.
It appears that that actual deadline was more of a psychological tool to instill fear rather than a sort of hard and fast deadline because even Chinese state-run television has been showing pictures over the past few days of a paramilitary police going from house-to-house and pulling people out and this sort of thing.
So it seems as if, arrests were made before the actual deadline began. And reports from sources are now saying that these house-to-house searches are going on in Tibetan areas. They're apparently - they're looking for pictures of the Dalai Lama. Sometimes, people who are wearing pictures of the Dalai Lama are taken away.
What's not clear is where these people are being taken and whether they are later being released or whether it's just a temporary detention or something much more long term.
NORRIS: Luisa, how hard is it to get accurate information about what's going on inside Tibet?
LIM: It's very difficult, indeed. And so many different sources of information and the pictures - the picture of the protests is changing so rapidly that it's very difficult to know what's going on. And some sources said that I've been talking to has told me that they simply can't even begin to come up with a list of the number of people who might have died because the situation is changing so rapidly that they cannot even begin to tabulate those figures.
But it does appear as if we are still seeing more new protests. And even today, there was reports of one protest in which 19 people were shot and killed. And it does appear, as well, as if the protests are spreading to a wider area wasting Tibetan students in other cities protesting.
We saw a protest in Beijing yesterday for the first time, and we were also seeing Tibetan students in other cities like Chengdu and Lanzhou beginning to protest. It's a sign of how desperate they feel the situation is despite knowing that there's a real danger there of being detained. Students are still coming out there and Tibetans are still coming out and protesting.
NORRIS: Luisa Lim, thank you very much.
LIM: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Luisa Lim speaking to us from Shanghai.