Friday, March 14, 2008

Chinese armed personnel carriers roll into Lhasa

Protesters hold a candlelight vigil as part of an anti-China demonstration at Boudha in Kathmandu, Nepal, March 14.

Prakash Mathema - AFP/Getty Images

A Tibetan activist is arrested by Indian police officials during a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, March 14. Indian police detained nearly 30 Tibetan protesters as they tried to storm the Chinese Embassy in the Indian capital, authorities said.

Findlay Kember - AFP/Getty Images

A Tibetan Bhuddist nun takes part in a candlelight vigil, March 14, in Dharamsala, India.

Strdel - AFP/Getty Images

Buddhist monks march in Xiahe, Gansu Province, China, March 14. A White House spokesman said Friday morning that Beijing "needs to respect Tibetan culture" and "needs to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama."

AFP/Getty Images

A candlelight vigil takes part in Kathmandu, Nepal, March 14. Protests begain in Tibet on Monday, when a few Buddhist monks and nuns demonstrated in a public plaza to commemorate Tibet's 1959 failed uprising against China.

Prakash Mathema - AFP/Getty Images

A Tibetan exile scuffles with police during a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Adnan Abidi - Reuters

Exiled Tibetans carry a portrait of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, at a candlelight vigil in Dharmsala, India, March 14. The Chinese government had no immediate comment on the violence in Tibet, but had previously blamed the violence on the Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in India after the 1959 uprising against China.

Ashwini Bhatia - AP

Nepalese policemen clash with protesting Tibetan exiles during an anti-China demonstration at Boudha, a large Tibetan Buddhist temple complex, in Kathmandu, on March 14. An estimated 2,000 Tibetan exiles held a candlelight vigil in Nepal's capital to show support for protesters in Tibet.

Prakash Mathema - AFP/Getty Images

Residents walk past overturned cars and burning shops in Barkhor Square in front of the Jokhang Temple, a world heritage site, in central Lhasa, March 14. The rare breakout of violence was the worst in 20 years in the capital city of a remote mountainous region that is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism.


Chinese security personnel shield themselves against stones thrown by protesters in Lhasa, March 14. Seeking to make the 2008 Olympic Games a worldwide celebration of its swift economic progress, the Chinese government has attempted to project an image of harmony and stability, even while tightening its grip over the restive region.


Protesters throw stones at military trucks in Lhasa, March 14, 2008. Doctors reported dozens of wounded streaming into area hospitals, and one witness said the downtown area was "in a state of siege."


Protests Erupt in Support for Tibet
A week of tense confrontations over Chinese rule in Tibet turn violent Friday, March 14, 2008, as hundreds of protesters clash with police and set fire to shops in the center of Lhasa. Tibet, once an independent state, has been ruled directly by Beijing since the 1950s, and human rights groups charge that China is trying to erase the province's culture.

10 Dead as Protesters, Police Clash in Tibetan Capital
Dozens Injured on Fifth Day of Demonstrations Against Chinese Rule

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 15, 2008; A01

BEIJING, March 15 -- Hundreds of protesters swarmed Tibet's capital Friday, clashing with police and setting fire to shops and cars in a spasm of violence worse than any there in nearly 20 years. Ten people were confirmed dead, and doctors reported dozens of injured streaming into hospitals as Lhasa descended into what one witness called "a state of siege."

By nightfall, armored personnel carriers had rolled into the center of the city. "The army is everywhere," said a hotel worker, who added that he was afraid to go outside.

The violence came after five days of escalating protests against Chinese rule in the remote mountainous region, the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. The confrontations, initially led by monks, were joined Friday by hundreds of Tibetan laypeople, who began attacking shops owned by ethnic Han and Hui Chinese. Street fights between Tibetans and Chinese continued into the night, according to reports from the region. Of the 10 people confirmed dead, a number were "business people," according to a report Saturday by the government-controlled New China News Agency.

The crisis exposed the anger Tibetans have long felt, but rarely were able to express openly, over Chinese domination. Although ethnic Chinese are a minority in Tibet, they are far better off economically. Tibetans also resent efforts by the central government in Beijing to bind their homeland to the rest of the country -- including the recent opening of a luxury train line to funnel tourists to Lhasa.

The Chinese government must now confront a significant political challenge as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in August. Authorities have steadfastly attempted to project an image of harmony and stability in Tibet and elsewhere even as they have tightened their grip over the region.

Images captured on cellphone cameras and posted on the Internet of protesters burning Chinese flags and running through the streets shouting independence slogans show how the once-small, romantic city, home to several of the most sacred sites of Tibetan Buddhism, has been transformed by years of intense development, often benefiting the Han Chinese who have settled there in the tens of thousands.

"This spiraling unrest has triggered the scenario the Chinese prayed would not happen," said Robbie Barnett, director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University. "They have left no one in place with any credibility who can come out on the streets and talk to these people."

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, citing "firsthand reports" of gunfire in Lhasa, issued an alert that warned tourists in the city to stay inside and avoid "unnecessary movements."

China heavily restricts travel to Tibet, making it difficult to independently verify developments there. Sources reached by phone declined to identify themselves for fear of government reprisal.

In one brief interview, a doctor at the Tibet Autonomous Region People's Hospital said he had received 41 wounded. An official at the People's Hospital of Lhasa said there were many wounded there but gave no details. The wounded continued coming as night fell, one doctor said, after police imposed a curfew.

A person who answered the phone at a Lhasa firehouse Friday afternoon said, "Many places are on fire."

European Union leaders urged China to show restraint. A White House spokesman said Beijing "needs to respect Tibetan culture" and "needs to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama," the Tibetan spiritual leader, whom the Chinese have accused of inciting the protests.

The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, issued a statement accusing China of using brute force to impose its culture on Tibetans. "These protests are a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people under the present governance," he said. "I therefore appeal to the Chinese leadership to stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue."

The regional Tibet government said it was taking "effective measures to properly handle the incident," according to New China News Agency. It called the violence an act of sabotage that had been "organized, premeditated and masterminded by the Dalai clique."

"We did not open fire. However, we will deal harshly with these criminals who are carrying out activities to split the nation," Champa Phunstok, the head of the regional government, told the Associated Press.

Regional officials also said they would restore electricity and phone service, which had been cut part of the day.

Tibetan exile groups and activists have vowed to intensify their "Free Tibet" campaigns in the run-up to the Olympics, when China's record on human rights and religious freedom will be in the international spotlight. Chinese officials have responded icily to the pressure.

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing that the situation in Tibet had "stabilized." He also said China's resolve to "safeguard national unification" was firm, so further protests "will not take place."

Despite the tough words, protests spread Friday, not only in Lhasa but elsewhere in China and neighboring countries with large Tibetan exile populations. Up to 4,000 ethnic Tibetans marched in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu. A Tibetan rights group reported that that protest had also turned violent.

The protests in Lhasa began Monday, when a few Buddhist monks and nuns demonstrated in a plaza in front of the 1,400-year-old Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet's most sacred sites, to commemorate the region's failed 1959 uprising against China. Hundreds of monks from Drepung Monastery, in the mountains outside the city, marched to join them but were stopped by police, according to news reports. About 50 to 60 of them were arrested.

On Tuesday, hundreds more monks took to the streets from nearby Sera Monastery to demand that police release everyone arrested. They were reportedly dispersed with tear gas. By Wednesday, police had begun to surround the big monasteries.

One source who had spoken with witnesses in Lhasa said that plainclothes officers had videotaped the first two days of demonstrations, focusing on the faces of those involved. The military junta in Burma used similar tactics before its violent crackdown on democracy protests last September and later launched house-to-house searches to identify participants, many of whom were arrested and interrogated.

News reports from Lhasa said police had begun house-to-house searches in predominantly Tibetan neighborhoods, looking for monks and nuns who were not registered with local authorities. There were other reports that two monks inside one monastery had attempted suicide and that others were staging hunger strikes.

Early Saturday, police patrolled the streets and traffic was severely restricted, one resident said in a brief phone interview.

The last time China cracked down so publicly on Tibetan protests was in 1989, when it declared martial law to put down thousands of protesters. At least 75 people were killed and hundreds arrested. Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Communist Party chief in Tibet at the time, gave the orders.

After that, Beijing moved swiftly to consolidate control over Tibet's Buddhists and dilute the Dalai Lama's authority, said Barnett, the Tibet scholar. The government created "democratic management committees" in each monastery that allowed Beijing to move security officials inside. They also built police stations just outside the walls of several of Tibet's largest monasteries.

Three times in the past nine years, China has required monks to engage in "patriotic education drives" in which they were made to study Chinese policies and write statements denouncing the Dalai Lama.

Beijing's campaign against the Dalai Lama kicked into high gear after Zhang Qingli was appointed Communist Party boss of the region two years ago. "He makes incredibly insulting statements about the Dalai Lama," Barnett said of Zhang. "And he instituted a zero-tolerance policy. The slightest incident is treated as a major threat to the nation."

The Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950, and their rule over the region has long been uneasy, marked by periodic protests that in recent years have drawn worldwide attention as celebrities took up the cause. Beijing insists that Tibet has historically been a part of China and points to a huge wave of economic development it has backed in the region. But the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles say development is destroying the region.

Beijing has insisted that politics should not intrude on the Olympics, but its decision to route the path of the Olympic flame over Mount Everest in Tibet galvanized those who oppose its claim over the region.

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