Dalai Lama threatens to quit over violence

The Dalai Lama threatened to step down as leader of Tibet's government in exile if violence committed by Tibetans in his homeland spirals out of control, in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, March 18, 2008.
The Dalai Lama threatened to step down as leader of Tibet's government in exile if violence committed by Tibetans in his homeland spirals out of control, in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, March 18, 2008.

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

Demonstrations in Tibet turned increasingly violent last week, and the Dalai Lama, speaking to reporters, urged Tibetans to show restraint.

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

While the situation inside Tibet remains unclear, much of the violence late last week appears to have been committed by Tibetans attacking ethnic Han Chinese. In the days since then, worries have grown that Chinese troops trying to reassert control over Lhasa were exacting retribution against the Tibetans.

Later, one of the Dalai Lama's top aides clarified his comments.

"If the Tibetans were to choose the path of violence he would have to resign because he is completely committed to nonviolence," Tenzin Taklha said. "He would resign as the political leader and head of state, but not as the Dalai Lama. He will always be the Dalai Lama."

As the Tibetan spiritual leader, he was recognized at age 2 as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and enthroned before he turned 4. He assumed full powers at age 15, in the year that troops of Mao Zedong's newly founded communist republic entered Tibet and crushed its small army.

The Dalai Lama also called on Tibetan exiles, currently on a protest they say will take them from India all the way to Lhasa, Tibet's capital, to stop their march at the border.

"Will you get independence? What's the use?" he said.

Meanwhile, China's Premier Wen Jiabao denounced supporters of the Dalai Lama Tuesday after a deadline for the rioters to turn themselves in passed without any apparent surrenders.

Wen's remarks were the highest-level response to last week's rampage in Lhasa, which the government said killed 16 people and injured dozens and which focused world attention on China's human rights record ahead of this summer's Beijing Olympics.

The recent Lhasa protests, led by monks, began peacefully March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. But they grew increasingly violent, culminating Friday with widespread street violence. Chinese officials say 16 people were killed, but the Tibetan government-in-exile says that 80 people died.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following the 1959 uprising, setting up his government-in-exile in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

Posted by LS

CBS and Associated Press contributed to this report.