China jails 17 for Tibetan riots
Wednesday, 30 April 2008

REUTERS, BEIJING - A Chinese court jailed 17 people for terms ranging from three years to life on Tuesday for their roles in Tibet's deadly riots, which triggered anti-China protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

China has blamed Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile for plotting the riots, in which at least 18 "innocent civilians", according to Beijing, were killed by Tibetan mobs in the regional capital, Lhasa, last month.

Lhasa Intermediate People's Court announced the verdicts at an "open trial" attended by more than 200 people, including Buddhist monks, medical workers and "masses from all walks of life", state television said.

It was the first batch of sentences announced since the March 14 violence and a Chinese crackdown that led to protests and disruption of the global Olympic torch relay, most notably in London, Paris and San Francisco. Seven schools, five hospitals and 120 homes were set ablaze and 908 shops were looted in the violence, Xinhua said.

Total damage was more than 244 million yuan ($35 million). Soi'nam Norbu, a driver with a Lhasa real estate company, and Basang, a monk, were sentenced to life, Xinhua quoted the court as saying.

It said Soi'nam Norbu, born in 1988, was part of mobs which burnt vehicles in a square near the Johkang Monastery, smashed police stations and fire engines with stones, and assaulted firemen. "He was convicted of arson and disrupting public services," the court said in a press release.

Basang, a monk from Doilungdeqen County in Lhasa, led 10 people -- including five monks -- to destroy the local government office, smash or burn down 11 shops, steal valuables and attack policemen, it said.

Some Western politicians have urged world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics, a sentiment echoed by a Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The European Parliament has also urged EU leaders to stay away from the opening ceremony unless China starts talks with the Dalai Lama. Seemingly bowing to international pressure, Beijing said last Friday that it would hold talks with envoys of the spiritual leader.

When asked about progress, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she had few details. "As far as I know, issues relating to dialogue and contact are still to be discussed," she said.

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