BEIJING – China stepped up attacks against the Dalai Lama on Monday as authorities apprehended four suspects in arson and murder cases stemming from anti-government riots that engulfed the Tibetan capital in mid-March.
Jiang Zaiping, the vice chief of the Public Security Bureau in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, said investigators have arrested the suspects responsible for arson attacks on three shops — including the clothing outlet where five young women were burned to death — and one in nearby Dagze county, the Tibet Daily newspaper reported Monday.
A total of 414 suspects have been arrested in connection with the anti-government riots, Jiang was quoted as saying. Another 298 people have turned themselves in, he said.
The Tibetan regional government also announced that the families of two of the women killed were given compensation of $28,170 each, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
An official who answered the telephone at the Lhasa Public Security Bureau said senior officials were all not available to give details. He refused to give his name.
The government has promised to give the same amount of compensation to the families of 18 civilians killed. China's total number of deaths from the riots also includes one policeman and three people who died jumping through windows to escape arrest. Tibet's government-in-exile has said that 140 Tibetans were killed during the protests.
"The compensation is a huge sum of money for a rural family like mine. I am grateful to the government's care and consolation, though nothing could bring my daughter back," He Hongli, father of 19-year-old He Xinxin, was quoted as saying.
The government has highlighted the burning deaths as a way to show that Tibetans were responsible for the violence that mainly targeted Han Chinese.
The anti-Chinese protests sparked demonstrations in recent weeks by ethnic Tibetans in neighboring provinces, becoming the most sustained challenge to China's rule in the Himalayan region since 1989.
China has consistently blamed the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, and his supporters for being behind the protests that began March 10 when Tibetan monks from Lhasa's main monasteries marched to commemorate a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
In the wake of the subsequent crackdown by Chinese forces, Beijing has come under intense international scrutiny over its human rights policies, causing embarrassment to China as it prepares to host the summer Olympic Games in August.
In turn, China has turned up its attacks against the Dalai Lama, who it has accused of trying to sabotage the Games in an effort to promote Tibetan independence.
A Monday commentary by Xinhua said if the Tibetan leader "really wishes to be a simple Buddhist monk, it's high time for him to stop playing politics and cheating people, Westerners in particular, with his hypocritical 'autonomy' claims.'
"The self-proclaimed spiritual leader has obviously forgotten his identity, abused his religion and played too much politics," the commentary said.
World leaders from the U.S., Australia and the European Union have repeatedly pressed for China to begin talks with the Dalai Lama.
In a recent interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite Television, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao again repeated that resumption of any dialogue would be contingent on the Dalai Lama giving up "independence" activities and agreeing that Tibet and Taiwan were part of China. But Wen also gave a more nuanced plea, asking the Tibetan leader to "utilize his influence to stop the occurrence of violent activities in Tibet."
Last week, under heavy pressure by foreign governments, China allowed groups of foreign journalists and diplomats to visit Lhasa under close supervision.
During the three-day visit, a group of 30 monks disrupted a government-led tour of Jokhang Temple, shouting that they had no religious freedom and that the Dalai Lama was not responsible for the unrest.
On Monday, Australia said it had been given assurances that those monks would not be harmed, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.