BEIJING Premier Wen Jiabao accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating violent clashes to taint the Beijing Olympics, saying Tuesday that the Nobel Peace laureate was provoking violence to promote Tibetan independence.
The Dalai Lama urged his followers to remain peaceful, saying he would resign as head of Tibet's government-in-exile if the situation spun out of control. But he also suggested the Chinese may have fomented the protests in Tibet and neighboring provinces in order to discredit him.
In China's highest-level response to the unrest, Wen underscored the Communist leadership's determination to regain control of Tibet and nearby parts of China and reassure the world it is fit to host the Games.
"There is ample fact and we also have plenty of evidence proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," Wen told reporters at his annual news conference at the end of China's national legislative session.
"This has all the more revealed that the consistent claims made by the Dalai clique that they pursue not independence but peaceful dialogue are nothing but lies," Wen said.
"By staging that incident they want to undermine the Beijing Olympics Games, and they also try to serve their hidden agenda by inciting such incidents," said Wen, who is portrayed as a mild-mannered conciliator by state media.
The Lhasa protests, led by monks, began peacefully March 10 on the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule. Tibet had been effectively independent for decades before Chinese Communist troops entered in 1950.
The increasingly violent demonstrations in Lhasa, led by Tibetan Buddhist monks, left 16 people dead and injured dozens, according to the government. The unrest spread into neighboring provinces with large Tibetan populations. China has denied a claim by the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in India that 80 Tibetans died.
The protests have focused world attention on China's human rights record ahead of the Beijing Olympics. The Communist government wants to ensure that the Aug. 8-24 games boost its international image.
Sports officials from the European Union, Russia, the United States and Australia, have ruled out an Olympic boycott. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday, however, that the EU should consider boycotting the opening ceremony if violence continues in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, speaking in Dharmsala, India, the seat of his government-in-exile, urged nonviolence on both sides.
"I say to China and the Tibetans don't commit violence," he told reporters. He suggested the Chinese themselves may have had a hand in it to discredit him.
"It's possible some Chinese agents are involved there," he said. "Sometimes totalitarian regimes are very clever, so it is important to investigate."
He said that "if things become out of control," his "only option is to completely resign."
Later, one of his top aides clarified the Dalai Lama's 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."
U.S. officials urged China to address Tibetans' long-standing grievances and engage in direct talks with the Dalai Lama
"I do think that his statements point out the fact that he is not arguing for independence or separation from China. Quite the opposite, he is arguing for dialogue with the Chinese," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
Meanwhile, authorities pressed ahead with efforts to round up protesters in Lhasa.
Duoji Zeren, the vice governor of Tibet, was quoted on state television as saying that authorities "would take determined methods to capture the primary suspects" but did not give any details.
Witnesses said authorities have been rounding up people since the weekend, but there has been no confirmation of any sweeping arrests since a Monday midnight deadline expired for protesters to turn themselves in or face severe punishment passed without apparent surrenders.
China's tight control over information and ban on trips by foreign reporters restricted independent reporting from the region.
Lhasa police refused to comment. The deputy division chief of the publicity department of the Tibetan Communist Party Committee said only that arrest "numbers would be made public in the near future."
Wen said Lhasa was returning to normal and "will be reopened to the rest of the world." He did not say when.
The India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said thousands of Tibetans converged onto the streets in Seda, a county seat in the southern province of Sichuan, and the situation was "extremely tense."
Sichuan, which borders Tibet, has seen other sympathy protests in recent days.
Telephone calls to the county's government, police and religious affairs bureau were not answered.
John Kenwood, a 19-year-old tourist from Victoria, Canada, who left Lhasa Tuesday morning, said he saw street cleaners wearing orange vests emblazoned with the Beijing Olympics symbol.
"When the fighting began, you saw no Chinese," said Kenwood as he arrived in Nepal. "Now you see no Tibetans on the streets. The young Tibetans are probably hiding."
Nepali police arrested about 50 protesters who were demonstrating to demand a U.N. investigation into China's crackdown on Tibet, officials said. It was the third protest in recent days close to the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Katmandu.
Some 600 people protested in Lausanne, Switzerland, demanding the International Olympic Committee call off a section of the Olympic torch relay in Tibet.The IOC said it joined with others in calling for a peaceful resolution to the tensions in Tibet but it intended to go ahead with the relay section through Lhasa in June.
Associated Press writers Muneeza Naqvi in Katmandu, Nepal, Gavin Rabinowitz in Dharmsala, India, and Graham Dunbar in Lausannee, Switzerland contributed to this report.