Anti-China protesters clash with police in Tibet

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Friday, March 14, 2008

In the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, Chinese security forces tried to control Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans who were setting fire to vehicles and shops on Friday, in protest of China's rule. At least two protesters are reported to have been shot dead by riot police.

The Chinese government reacted quickly to the protests. An eyewitness report describes hundreds of police forces barricading the city's main square, some opening fire on protesters. Other reports suggest the city is under a sort of lockdown. "The Sera monastery is surrounded by Chinese soldiers or police," an eyewitness told ABC News. "I went yesterday to an area nearby to meet a Tibetan friend, and I saw the monastery surrounded by them."

The protests began rather peacefully on Monday, when a group of monks marched in Lhasa to advocate religious freedom. The march came on the 49th anniversary of Tibet's 1959 rebellion against China. When 50 or 60 of the monks were arrested, hundreds of other monks took to the streets to demand their release. Soon, ordinary Tibetans became involved as well, and the protests grew more violent.

Around 400 protesters gathered at a market near the Jokhang temple, where they were confronted by 1,000 police, according to a witness cited by the Free Tibet Campaign. Cars, buses, and military vehicles were burned as plumes of smoke rose above the city. Protesters also set fire to shops, most of which were owned by ethnic Chinese. "Some of them are looting those shops, taking out the contents and throwing them on huge fires which they've lit in the street," said James Miles, a British journalist.

People have been burning cars and motorbikes and buses. There is smoke everywhere and they have been throwing rocks and breaking windows.

—Lhasa resident

Near Barkhor, one man said that two soldiers have been killed, and that Tibetans were beating Chinese residents with iron rods. Another eyewitness in Lhasa said that people were being carried away on stretchers. "People have been burning cars and motorbikes and buses," one resident said. "There is smoke everywhere and they have been throwing rocks and breaking windows. We're scared."

Psurbu Tsering of the "Tibetan Association of New York and New Jersey" said his members had received phone calls from Tibet, claiming 70 people had been killed and 1,000 arrested in Tibet. These reports could not be verified.

The unrest has reportedly spread to other provinces, and even other countries. Similar protests were seen in Nepal's capital of Kathmandu, where 1,000 protesters, including monks, gathered at a rally in support of the Tibet demonstrations. Around 12 monks were injured. In the United States, six Tibetans were arrested after holding protests outside the United Nations building in New York City.

An official from the Tibet Autonomous Region accused the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, of orchestrating the protests, saying there was enough evidence to prove they were "organized, premeditated and masterminded" by Gyatso and his close supporters. A spokesperson for the Dalai Lama denied these allegations, saying the protests were "completely spontaneous".

In a statement, the Dalai Lama called the protests a "manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people". He insisted that both sides end the violence, telling the Chinese government to "stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue," and he urged his "fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence."

Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency, reported in the early hours of Saturday that the situation had "basically returned to normal", although some people had been injured and were taken to the hospital. A Chinese official said the government is "fully capable of maintaining social stability" in Tibet.

The events prompted responses from European leaders, including Dimitrij Rupel, foreign minister of Slovenia and current President of the European Council. "We would like to see some kind of reconciliation between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan representatives," he said.

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner alluded to a connection between the protests and the 2008 Summer Olympics, which are set to occur in Beijing this August. "France can draw attention to the link between the Olympic Games and this Tibetan aspiration, which China has to take into account." However, he will not be supporting a boycott of the games. Neither will European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said, "As far as the Olympic Games are concerned I intend to be there."