Troops Pour Into Tibet Amid Arrests

ZHONGDIAN, China -- China blanketed restive Tibetan areas Thursday with a huge buildup of troops, turning small towns across a wide swath of west China into armed encampments.

Beijing acknowledged that last week's anti-government protests had spread far beyond Tibet's borders and that police had opened fire on protesters. It warned foreign tourists and journalists to stay away from a huge expanse of territory across four provinces.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday that police shot and wounded four rioters "in self defense" during violent protests on Sunday in Aba County in Sichuan. It is the first time the government has admitted to shooting protesters in nearly a week of unrest.

A Tibetan resident in Aba county said Thursday she had heard of numerous arrests of protesters.

"There are many, many troops outside. I'm afraid to leave the house," said the woman, who refused to give her name for fear of retaliation by authorities.

In an overture of peace, the Dalai Lama offered to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders, reiterating that he was not asking for Tibetan independence.

China has repeatedly ignored calls for dialogue, accusing the exiled Tibetan leader and his supporters of organizing violence in hopes of sabotaging this summer's Beijing Olympics and promoting Tibetan independence.

Hundreds of paramilitary troops aboard at least 80 trucks were seen traveling along the main roadway winding through the mountains into southeast Tibet. Others set up camp and patrolled streets in riot gear, helmets and rifles in the town of Leaping Tiger Gorge, a tourist attraction in Yunnan province bordering Tibet.

Further north, the largely Tibetan town of Zhongdian was overrun by some 400 armed police. Many carried rifles and what appeared to be tear gas launchers. Locals walked about freely among the military, however, and there was no sign of a daytime curfew.

China's troop mobilization was building critical mass, helping authorities reassert control after the broadest, most sustained protests by Tibetans against Chinese rule in decades. Demonstrations had flared across Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces in support of protests that started in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

Led by Buddhist monks, protests started peacefully in Lhasa early last week but erupted into rioting last Friday, drawing a harsh response from Chinese authorities.

The crackdown drew worldwide attention to China's human rights record, threatening to overshadow its attempts to project a positive image in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in August.

On Thursday, a group of 37 Nobel laureates said they "deplore and condemn the Chinese government's violent crackdown on Tibetan protesters."

"We protest the unwarranted campaign waged by the Chinese government against our fellow Nobel Laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama," the group said in a statement.

Tibetan exile groups have claimed that 80 people were killed. Beijing maintains that only 16 died.

The two remaining foreign journalists in Tibet -- Georg Blume of Germany and Kristin Kupfer of Austria -- were forced to leave Lhasa on Thursday, according to Reporters Without Borders.