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Mar 15, 2008 at 12:05pm IST

10 burnt to death in Lhasa protest: Beijing | Images

Beijing: China said at least 10 people were burnt to death in riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, the fiercest pro-independence protests to have rocked the region in two decades, scarring China's image months before the Olympics.

Xinhua news agency said the 10 died in the bitter clashes that erupted in the remote, mountain capital on Friday, having initially said seven. It said no foreigners died but gave few other details.

"The victims are all innocent civilians and they have been burnt to death," an official with the regional government was quoted as saying.

TROUBLE-TORN: More than 160 fires, including 40 major blazes, were reported in Lhasa.

It also said armed police in Lhasa rescued more than 580 people, including three Japanese tourists, from banks, supermarkets, schools and hospitals that were set alight.

More than 160 fires, including 40 major blazes, were reported, it said. China has accused followers of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of masterminding the uprising, which has scarred its image of national harmony in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics and already sparked talk of a boycott.

Tibetan crowds in the remote mountain city attacked government offices, burnt vehicles and shops and threw stones at police on Friday in bloody confrontations that left many injured.

At least one policeman was killed and left lying on the street, a Western envoy said, quoting a foreign witness.

Armoured vehicles were rolled out, the diplomat added. A picture showed a protester setting fire to bicycles and a Chinese national flag. Another showed security personnel shielding themselves against rocks hurled by protesters.

Rioters burned police cars and shops owned by Han Chinese, a Tibetan source said, quoting a witness. "The protesters wanted to set the Tibet Autonomous Region building on fire," the source said, requesting anonymity.

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Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, told reporters in Beijing that Tibetan authorities had not fired any shots to quell the violence in Lhasa, which Xinhua news agency said had 'reverted to calm'.

Residents of Lhasa waited anxiously in homes and closed shops on Saturday morning, wondering if the day would bring fresh confrontation. "It's quite tense still," said one hostel manager who requested anonymity, as did other residents spoken to. "We don't dare go outside, so I can't tell you what's happening," said one.

Xinhua said its reporters in Lhasa the previous day saw many rioters "carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of inflammable liquids, some holding iron bars, wooden sticks and long knives, a sign that the crowd came fully prepared and meant harm".

A Tibetan resident of the old part of Lhasa which saw big protests on Friday said it was too soon to know whether the new day would bring fresh confrontation. "If there is blood today it will be ours," he said.

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