The Dalai Lama on Tuesday threatened to step down as leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile if violence committed by Tibetans in his homeland escalates, the Associated Press reports.
Monk-led protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa began peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule. The protests have grown increasingly violent, with widespread street violence reported on Friday. Chinese officials say 16 have been killed, but the Tibetan government-in-exile has estimated a death toll of 80.
The rioting has prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to denounce the Dalai Lama’s supporters as separatists, accusing them of instigating violence in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa.
The Dalai Lama told reporters that “if things become out of control,” his “only option is to completely resign.”
A top aide of the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Taklha, clarified his comments, saying, "If the Tibetans were to choose the path of violence he would have to resign because he is completely committed to nonviolence."
"He would resign as the political leader and head of state, but not as the Dalai Lama. He will always be the Dalai Lama."
Though the situation inside Tibet remains unclear, the violence appears to be committed by Tibetans who are attacking ethnic Han Chinese.
Premier Wen accused the protestors of trying to disrupt the upcoming Olympic Games.
"By staging that incident they want to undermine the Beijing Olympics Games, and they also try to serve their hidden agenda by inciting such incidents," Wen told reporters at a press conference at the end of China’s national legislative meeting, according to the Associated Press.
Wen accused the Dalai Lama of instigating the riots. “There is ample fact - and we also have plenty of evidence - proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," he said. Wen did not provide details.
He said China would only consider dialogue with the Dalai Lama if he would renounce his efforts at Tibetan independence.
China had set a deadline of Monday at midnight for protesters to turn themselves in. Hours after the deadline, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia cited an unnamed witness who said authorities in Lhasa had begun arresting hundreds of people.
Protests have spread from Tibet into neighboring Chinese provinces, and even to the capital of Beijing.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after the 1959 uprising, setting up a government-in-exile in Dhamsala, India.
Recently he has called on Tibetan exiles to stop their six-month march from India to Lhasa at the Tibetan border. "Will you get independence? What's the use?" he said.