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China sentences 2 to death for fires in Tibet riot

April 9, 2009

The Associated Press
March 8, 2009

BEIJING (AP) -- A Chinese court on Wednesday
handed down death sentences to two people accused
of starting deadly fires in last year's
anti-government riots in Tibet, state media and a court officer said.

It was the first report of death sentences given
out for the March 14 violence in the Tibetan
capital Lhasa that Chinese officials say killed 22 people.

The Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People's Court
also gave suspended death sentences to two other
people, and another was sentenced to life
imprisonment, the official Xinhua News Agency
said in a brief dispatch. Suspended death
sentences usually revert to life imprisonment after two years.

Xinhua said the five were tried in three separate
arson cases that left seven people dead and five
shops burned to the ground in Lhasa. One other
arson case is still being heard in which five people were killed, it said.

A man who answered the phone at the Lhasa
Intermediate People's Court said the verdicts
were announced Wednesday, but he could not
confirm the sentences or provide other details
about the trial or those sentenced. Like many
Chinese officials he would only give his surname, Yang.

State media says 76 people have been sentenced
and more than 950 detained following last year's protests.

The riots broke out following several days of
peaceful anti-government protests by Buddhist
monks. Despite the heavy security presence in
Lhasa, rioters attacked Chinese-owned shops and
homes for hours with little opposition. As
sympathy protests — some of them violent — swept
over large swathes of Tibetan-populated areas of
western China, authorities launched a massive
crackdown that sealed off the region.

Tibetan supporters say the death toll in the
protests and subsequent crackdown stands in the dozens.

Beijing claims the protests were part of a
violent campaign by Tibet's exiled spiritual
leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters to
throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.

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