China admits to shooting 4 protesters in Tibetan community

China acknowledged Thursday that police shot and wounded four rioters over the weekend, the first admission that guns have been used to quell violent demonstrations in Tibet.

China acknowledged Thursday that police shot and wounded four rioters "in self-defence" over the weekend, the first admission that guns have been used to quell the violent demonstrations in Tibet. 

Tibetan protesters burn goods from shops belonging to Chinese residents as they protest Chinese rule in Lhasa on March 14. ((Jonathan Brady/Associated Press))

Officials had previously denied that police used any weapons against the protesters. Tibet's governor, Champa Phuntsok, insisted earlier this week that "guns were absolutely not fired."

The rioters were shot on Sunday in a Tibetan community in the western Sichuan province, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Beijing also acknowledged Thursday that demonstrations have spread to provinces in China. Xinhua reported there were "riots in Tibetan-inhabited areas in the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu, both neighbouring Tibet." 

Heavy reinforcements were being sent to Tibet and neighbouring provinces.

At least 80 trucks loaded with hundreds of security police have been spotted on the main road winding through the mountains into southeastern Tibet, the Associated Press reported.

CBC's Michel Cormier said they witnessed a convoy of 200 military vehicles with armed combat troops heading to the border Wednesday.

Chinese officials said they have arrested 24 suspects in Tibet in connection with anti-government riots. The Tibet Daily reported the protesters arrested face charges of endangering state security and other "grave crimes" connected to Friday's riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

The Xinhua News Agency said late Wednesday that 170 people had surrendered over their role in last week's riots in Lhasa. The government has promised leniency for protesters who turn themselves in, but has warned it will harshly punish those who do not.

Nobel laureates urge restraint

The international community continued to speak out against the Chinese government's crackdown on Tibetan protesters on Thursday, with protesters holding a rally in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement calling on Beijing to show restraint in dealing with the situation.

In New York City, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and 25 other Nobel laureates issued a similar statement, condemning China's actions and calling for renewed negotiations between China and Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"The latest events are dramatic and the main thing is to stop the present oppression, persecution and violence," said Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. "I don't understand the Chinese hierarchy there. Why are they afraid of Tibet?"

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also weighed in on the issue and urged restraint Thursday, although U.S. President George W. Bush said that despite the recent violence, he would not be cancelling his planned trip to the Beijing Olympics in the summer.

Dalai Lama willing to meet with Chinese president

Statements by the Chinese government are difficult to verify because of China's tight control over information and a ban on trips by foreign reporters.

Beijing has consistently blamed Tibet's spiritual leader for orchestrating the violence in Lhasa.

The Dalai Lama has denied claims that he instigated the violence, and has urged his followers to show restraint and remain peaceful.

On Thursday, the Dalai Lama told reporters in Dharmsala, India — the seat of Tibet's government-in-exile — he would be willing to meet with Chinese leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao. But he said he wouldn't meet with them in Beijing unless there was "a real concrete development." He said he would be happy to meet them elsewhere.

The Lhasa protests, led by monks, began peacefully March 10 on the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule. But the demonstrations turned violent Friday. China has said 16 people were killed but Tibetan exiles have pegged the death toll at 80.