DHARMSALA, India - The Dalai Lama threatened today to step down as leader of Tibet's government-in-exile if violence committed by Tibetans in his homeland spirals out of control.
The rioting prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to denounce the Dalai Lama's supporters as separatists and accuse them of instigating the violence in Tibet's capital of Lhasa. It was China's highest-level response to date to the unrest.
The Dalai Lama, speaking to reporters, urged his countrymen to show restraint.
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."
The recent protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, 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 put the toll at 80.
While the situation inside Tibet remains unclear, much of the violence appears to have been committed by Tibetans attacking ethnic Han Chinese, the majority ethnicity in China. In the days since then, worries have grown that Chinese troops trying to reassert control over Lhasa were exacting retribution against the Tibetans.
The Dalai Lama also called on Tibetan exiles beginning a six-month march from India to Lhasa to stop their march at the border.
"Will you get independence? What's the use?" he said.
Today, 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."