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Battling self-immolations, China makes more arrests

HONG KONG — The police in a restive Tibetan area have arrested 12 people and detained dozens more accused of a playing a part in acts of self-immolation by Tibetan monks and others protesting Chinese rule, the state-run media said Thursday, as the government stepped up its campaign of attributing the protests to a plot inspired by the exiled Dalai Lama.

The announcement of the crackdown in Qinghai province in western China comes as the number of self-immolations reported in Tibetan parts of the country over the past four years approached 100, a somber milestone that has appeared to spur efforts by the Chinese police and officials to crack down on people and groups seeking greater freedom for Tibetans.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said that since November the police in Huangnan, a heavily Tibetan prefecture of Qinghai, have formally arrested 12 suspects and detained 58 other people over self-immolations in the area. Despite the Chinese government’s crackdown, there have already been three self-immolations by Tibetans this year. The second one died.

One of those arrested, whose Tibetan name is reported as Puhua, was charged with homicide and accused of giving speeches encouraging self-immolations at funerals for people who died by engulfing themselves in fire, the news agency report said. It did not give details about the other suspects, when they were held by the police or the accusations against them.

—Chris Buckley, The New York Times

Chicago heiress said to be candidate for Commerce

WASHINGTON — Penny Pritzker, an heiress to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is a leading candidate to become President Barack Obama’s next commerce secretary as the president slowly moves to complete his second-term economic team.

Pritzker, who led the groundbreaking fundraising effort for Obama’s first presidential campaign, withdrew from consideration for the same position in 2008, with some people suggesting that her family’s immense wealth might complicate her nomination at a time of deep financial crisis. Now, however, sources familiar with the president’s thinking say he may yet turn to his longtime friend to lead the Commerce Department and join the administration’s effort to recharge the still sluggish economy. She would replace Rebecca Blank, who has been acting secretary since John Bryson resigned last year, citing health reasons.

A formal announcement of who will lead the department is still weeks away, a White House official said, and Obama could still choose someone else. In the meantime, the president is also searching for replacements in other key agencies and departments.

—Michael D. Shear, The New York Times

White House tensions over Syria exposed in hearing

WASHINGTON — In his first term, President Barack Obama presided over an administration known for its lack of open dissension on critical foreign policy issues.

But on Thursday, deep divisions over what to do about one of those issues — the rising violence in Syria — spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the leaders of the Pentagon.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the CIA director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state.

—Michael R. Gordon and Mark Landler, The New York Times