Olympic Torchbearer Withdraws in Protest Over Tibet Crackdown As China Lashes Out

China lashed out Sunday at critics of its crackdown on Tibetan protesters, describing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as "habitually bad tempered" while claiming the Western media serve those who want to smear the communist country.

The barrage of complaints carried in official media -- which included more broadsides against the Dalai Lama -- came as the country sought to present its own version of the deadly anti-Chinese protests and their aftermath. The crackdown has been a public relations disaster for China ahead of the Beijing Olympics -- a Thailand torchbearer withdrew Sunday in protest.

With foreign media banned and troops dispatched en masse to quell the most widespread demonstrations against Chinese rule in nearly five decades, independent information barely trickled out of the Tibetan capital Lhasa and other far-flung communities.

The People's Daily, the main mouthpiece of the Communist Party, placed the blame for the recent riots on Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama.

"The Dalai clique is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence," it said.

The attacks on the Dalai Lama -- who advocates nonviolence and denies being behind the March 14 riots in Lhasa -- have been aimed at further demonizing him in the eyes of the Chinese public, which strongly supports the Olympics.

The official Xinhua New Agency, meanwhile, published a commentary bashing Pelosi, a fierce critic of China who on Friday visited the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in India, where she called China's crackdown "a challenge to the conscience of the world."

Xinhua accused Pelosi of ignoring the violence caused by the Tibetan rioters. "'Human rights police' like Pelosi are habitually bad tempered and ungenerous when it comes to China, refusing to check their facts and find out the truth of the case," it said.

"Her views are like so many other politicians and western media. Beneath the double standards lies their intention to serve the interest groups behind them, who want to contain or smear China."

Reports of how many people died in the violence have varied and been impossible to independently verify. China raised its death toll to 22, with Xinhua reporting Saturday that the charred remains of an 8-month-old boy and four adults were pulled from a garage burned down in Lhasa last Sunday -- two days after the city erupted in anti-Chinese rioting. The Dalai Lama's exiled government says 99 Tibetans have been killed, 80 in Lhasa, 19 in Gansu province.

The Chinese government has sought to portray itself and Chinese businesses as the victims.

Xinhua said Sunday that 94 people had been injured in four counties and one city in Gansu province in riots on March 15-16. It said that 64 police, 27 armed police, two government officials and one civilian were hurt. It made no mention of any injuries to the protesters.

China has been hoping to use the August Olympics to bolster its international image.

There have been discussions of a possible international boycott of the Games, though the European Union and the United States have so far said they opposed the idea.

The official lighting of the Olympic flame is set for Monday in Greece, and some 1,000 police will surround Ancient Olympia to keep away pro-Tibetan protesters from the ceremony. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is scheduled to attend.

Some fear the arrival of the Olympic torch -- scheduled to travel through 20 countries before the Beijing Olympics open on Aug. 8 -- could spark violent protests against China.

The torch relay is already becoming politicized.

Narisa Chakrabongse-- an environmentalist and one of Thailand's six torchbearers -- said in an open letter that she decided against taking part in the relay to "send a strong message to China that the world community could not accept its actions." Narisa wrote, "The slaying of the Tibetans ... is an outright violation of human rights."

Despite media restrictions, some information was leaking out on troop movements.

One American backpacker who traveled to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, said he had seen soldiers or paramilitary troops in Deqen in northwest Yunnan province, which borders Tibet.

"What was an empty parking lot by the library was full of military trucks and people practicing with shields. I saw hundreds of soldiers," said the witness, who would give only his first name Ralpha.

There have been no reported protests in Yunnan.

Xinhua issued several reports Sunday saying that in addition to Gansu province, life was returning to normal in other areas where protests took place in the wake of the Lhasa riots.

It said "more than half of the shops on major streets were seen reopened for business" in Aba, the center of northern Aba county in Sichuan province. It quoted county Communist Party chief Kang Qingwei as saying government departments and major enterprises were "running normally" and that schools would reopen on Monday.

Aba is where Xinhua has said police shot and wounded four rioters in self-defense. It was the first time the government acknowledged shooting any protesters.

In Lhasa Saturday, Champa Phuntsok, Tibet's China-appointed governor, vowed that local authorities will make a concerted effort to maintain stability, Xinhua reported Sunday.

"We must...win the final victory in all respects against the secessionist forces to help ensure successful Olympic Games with a stable social situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region," he said.