Dalai Lama Threatens to Step Down

DHARMSALA, India -- The Dalai Lama threatened on Tuesday to step down as leader of Tibet's government-in-exile if violence committed by Tibetans in his homeland spirals out of control.

The Tibetan spiritual leader also sharply rejected accusations by China that he orchestrated last week's demonstrations in Tibet -- and the violence that ensued.

"I say to China and the Tibetans -- don't commit violence," he told reporters in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharmsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday denounced supporters of the Dalai Lama as separatists and instigators of anti-Chinese riots in Tibet's capital, where authorities pressed ahead Tuesday with efforts to round up protesters.

"Whether we like it or not, we have to live together side by side," said the Dalai Lama, who has long called for Tibetans to have autonomy within China. "We must oppose Chinese policy but not the Chinese. Not on a racist basis."

Though clearly fearful of China's crackdown -- he compared the plight of Tibetans to that of "a young deer in a tiger's hands" -- the Dalai Lama also said he was deeply troubled by Tibetan attacks on ethnic Han, China's majority ethnic group, who have been encouraged to settle in Tibet by Beijing and are deeply resented in the region.

He said that "if things become out of control," his "only option is to completely resign."

An aide later said the Dalai Lama referred to stepping down as political leader -- not as religious leader of all Tibetan Buddhists. "He will always be the Dalai Lama," Tenzin Taklha said.

But the 72-year-old refused to call on the Tibetans inside Tibet to end peaceful protests. "Only, I express my wish to cool down," he said.