Friday, March 14, 2008

Gunfire heard in Tibet's capital as protests turn violent

Lhasa, Tibet, March 14 2008: Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles as a car burns on a street in the Tibetan capital

Photograph: AFP

Lhasa, Tibet, March 14 2008: Tibetan protesters attack firemen lying on the ground as civil unrest continues for the fifth day. The protests were led by monks who had been marking the anniversary of an unsuccessful anti-China uprising in 1959

Photograph: EPA

Labrang, Tibet, March 14 2008: Thousands of monks and demonstraters converge in the streets to protest against Chinese rule

Photograph: Indian Branch of Students for a Free Tibet/AP

Labrang, Tibet, March 14 2008: Pedestrians walking among Chinese police officers

Photograph: Indian Branch of Students for a Free Tibet/AP

Labrang, Tibet, March 14 2008: Images taken with a mobile phone of Chinese police in Sangchu County, Kanlho, "Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture", Gansu Province, China. The area is traditionally known to Tibetans as Amdo Labrang

Photograph: Indian Branch of Students for a Free Tibet/AP

Kathmandu, Nepal, March 10 2008: A Chinese worker erases slogans by Tibetan protesters at the Chinese embassy wall

Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA

Kathmandu, Nepal, March 10 2008: Nepalese riot police arrest a Tibetan monk during a clash at Boudha. Hundreds of Tibetan activists clashed with police when protesters tried to march to the Chinese embassy

Photograph: Prakash Mathema/AFP

Dehra, India, March 13 2008: Tibetan marchers chant slogans from the back of a police vehicle after being arrested

Photograph: Getty Images

Bangalore, India, March 10 2008: A Tibetan youth ties a free Tibet bandana around his mouth during a demonstration

Photograph: Manjunath Kiran/EPA

New Delhi, India, March 12 2008: Police officers try to close the door of a police van after arresting woman activists

Photograph: Manish Swarup/Ap

New Delhi, India, March 12 2008: Some 49 Tibetan women, holding Tibetan flags attempted to enter the Chinese embassy premises

New Delhi, India, March 12 2008: Indian police restrain a Tibetan woman from the Tibetan Youth Congress during a demonstration at the Chinese Embassy

Photograph: Raveendran/AFP

New Delhi, India, March 10 2008: A Tibetan activist prays as she takes part in a rally

Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP

New Delhi, India, March 10 2008: Tibetan activists dressed with fake blood wearing the Olympic rings take part in a rally

Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP

Dharamsala, India, March 10 2008: Tibetan activists hold the Tibetan Olympic flame prior to starting their march

Photograph: Manan Vatsysyana/AFP

Dharamsala, India, March 10 2008: More than 100 Tibetan exiles in India set off to applause on a symbolic march home as part of pro-independence protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics

Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Dharamsala, India, March 10 2008: Tibetan activists and supporters wave placards and flags as they take part in a peace march to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising Day

Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

'There was a lot of smoke coming from the city centre'
An eyewitness in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa explains what happened as the fiercest anti-government protests in almost 20 years erupted into violence

Gunfire on the streets of Lhasa as rallies turn violentWitnesses report killings and attacks on Chinese in fiercest protests for 20 years

Graphic: Map of Lhasa

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Randeep Ramesh in Delhi The Guardian, Saturday March 15 2008 Article historyAbout this articleClose This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday March 15 2008 on p24 of the International section. It was last updated at 02:16 on March 15 2008.

Burning car in Tibet. Photograph: STR/AFP

China was struggling last night to bring Lhasa, Tibet's capital, under control after the fiercest anti-government protests for 20 years led to rioting and gunfire on the streets yesterday.

Authorities ordered a curfew and deployed thousands of police officers around the city after a day of turmoil in which eyewitnesses reported hearing automatic gunfire, tanks were seen in the centre and armed police used water cannon and teargas as young Tibetans set security vehicles on fire and stoned Chinese residents.

A witness said Chinese drivers were carried from vehicles with bloodied faces after being beaten by angry youths.

Reports claimed that several people, possibly including a teenage girl, had been killed and dozens seriously wounded in the clashes. Protesters were also said to have burned down a mosque and the Tromzikhang market, smashed up a government telecommunications office, attacked hotels and looted shops.

Details of the events were difficult to confirm because communication with the tightly controlled region are restricted even in calm periods.

The official Xinhua news agency gave little information but said authorities said the "Dalai clique" had "organised, premeditated and masterminded" the unrest and vowed to restore control. "The plots by the very few people against the stability and harmony of Tibet run counter to the will of the people and are doomed to fail," it reported an official as saying. He said the government was "fully capable of maintaining social stability" in the region. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, attacked the claims as baseless and called on China not to use "brute force".

The Free Tibet Campaign said protests seemed to be building outside the Tibetan autonomous region, with up to 4,000 Tibetans - mainly lay people - clashing with security forces after they marched from Labrang monastery to government offices in Xiahe, Gansu province. It quoted a witness who said the crowd dispersed after police fired into the air.

The demonstrations began with peaceful protests by monks on Monday, the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Lama's flight to India. But tensions rose swiftly as security forces closed off the city's three biggest monasteries.

The protests present hard choices for the president, Hu Jintao, who was Communist party chief in the region when China imposed martial law in 1989.

Officials said last night there was not a state of martial law in Tibet as yet, but protesters would be dealt with "harshly". One Beijing official told the Associated Press: "We did not open fire, however we will deal harshly with these criminals who are carrying out activities to split the nation."

China is determined to polish its international image before the Olympics in August, but will be anxious that failing to stamp out unrest may allow it to grow.

The EU and the White House urged China to show restraint.

Radio Free Asia, a radio station funded by the US, quoted witnesses as saying that two bodies were seen lying on the ground. The Free Tibet campaign said it was told by a witness that three lay people and a monk had died and Students for a Free Tibet (India) claimed police had shot dead a teenage girl after the Chinese government ordered the deployment of 10,000 troops in the city.

A tourist in Lhasa told the Guardian that trouble had flared in the early afternoon at the Jokhang monastery in the heart of the city as a young Tibetan man, egged on by bystanders, began to attack a security vehicle. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: "They started throwing bricks and stones and sticks. They turned over a couple of police cars and set fire to them. The crowds were throwing stones at any passing cars.

"There was a lot of black smoke as we left the centre and we saw seven big troop carriers heading into town full of soldiers."

He said he and his friends saw up to 10 snipers in the square. Later in the evening they heard automatic gunfire from the direction of the centre and saw tanks.

Another eyewitness said he heard an explosion and about 10 shots a minute at one point in the afternoon, but thought it was teargas rather than bullets being fired because he saw people running and covering their mouths.

"I am too afraid to go out," the resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "It is chaos out there." The resident, who is from the Chinese Han ethnic group, said he saw Tibetans attack two fire engines.

"I saw Tibetans throwing stones at the vehicles. They dragged drivers from vehicles, took off their uniforms and helmets, then beat them.

"The chanting mob beat up around five or six drivers who had to be carried away with blood on their faces ... then they put a motorbike under the fire engine and set fire to it so the engine was burned."

A blogger who writes from Lhasa under the name Beifang described the violence on his blog. "Police cars and fire engines were outside smashed and burned.

"A lot of Tibetans ran towards Dazhao [Jokhang] temple. I heard gunshots. Five army police vehicles drove that way. A large number of armed police followed. A few people with blood on their faces were taken away." Several witnesses reported armed police in armoured vehicles blocking major intersections in the city centre and the square in front of the Potala palace, formerly the winter residence of the Dalai Lama.

A Tibetan guide quoted by the Associated Press said: "As I approached Potala square, I heard cannon fire, louder than rifles. Others told me police were firing teargas along Beijing Zhonglu, west of the Potala."

An eyewitness told the Guardian that elsewhere in the city there appeared to be no police or military presence as Tibetans attacked Han Chinese indiscriminately, hurling stones.

About a dozen monks were reportedly detained on Monday, when several hundred from the Sera and Drepung monasteries took to the streets.

The International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday that two monks at the Drepung monastery had stabbed themselves and others had gone on hunger strike.

Gunfire heard in Tibet's capital as protests turn violent

The Associated Press
Friday, March 14, 2008

BEIJING: Protests led by Buddhist monks against Chinese rule in Tibet turned violent Friday, bathing Lhasa in smoke from tear gas, bonfires and burned shops, and posing a challenge to China on whether its image can withstand a harsh crackdown ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

From exile in India, the Dalai Lama appealed to China not to use force to end the largest, most sustained demonstrations in nearly two decades against Beijing's 57-year rule in Tibet. China's government in Tibet accused the Dalai Lama's supporters of inciting the unrest and imposed a curfew, ordering people to stay indoors.

Eyewitness accounts and photos posted on the Internet portrayed a chaotic scene in Lhasa, the provincial capital, with crowds hurling rocks at security forces, hotels and restaurants. The U.S. Embassy said Americans had reported gunfire. U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported two people killed.

At a demonstration outside the United Nations in New York, Psurbu Tsering of the Tibetan Association of New York and New Jersey said its members received phone calls from Tibet claiming 70 people had been killed and 1,000 arrested. The reports could not be verified.

Shops were set on fire along two main streets surrounding the Jokhang temple, Tibet's most sacred shrine and the heart of Lhasa's old city, sending out thick clouds of smoke. Young men set fire to a Chinese flag and a huge bonfire burned in a street. Armed police in riot gear backed by armored vehicles blocked intersections, said a Tibetan guide.

The violence, which came on the fifth day of sporadic and largely peaceful protests, poses difficulties for a communist leadership that has looked to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics as a way to recast China as a friendly, modern power. Too rough a crackdown could put that at risk while balking could embolden protesters, costing Beijing authority in often restive Tibet.

"China is afraid of letting this protest mount. On the other hand, the world's eyes are upon China in advance of the Olympics. If they're too heavy-handed, it could cause them a lot of problems," said Jamie Metzl of the New York-based Asia Society. "It's an open question as to how much China thinks it can afford a major crisis in advance of the Summer Olympics."

In an ominous turn for Beijing, the street protests broadened Friday. Photographs taken by camera phone and provided by the Indian branch of Students for a Free Tibet showed hundreds of Tibetans marching through Xiahe, a Tibetan town in the western province of Gansu. Robed monks displayed the banned Tibetan national flag.

In Lhasa, the protests that had largely been confined to monks spilled over to ordinary Tibetans, who vented pent-up anger at Chinese and their businesses. Guests and employees at the Lhasa Dong Cuo International Youth Hostel huddled in the lobby, away from windows being smashed by protesters.

"Monks and very young men down to the age of 15-16 are smashing the Chinese shops, kicking in doors and windows, setting the shops on fire and beating the Chinese in the vicinity," the Danish daily Politiken quoted an unidentified witness as saying.

The exiled Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetans consider their spiritual leader, said China should stop using force in Tibet, saying he is "deeply concerned."

"I therefore appeal to the Chinese leadership to stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue with the Tibetan people. I also urge my fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence," he said in a statement released in Dharmsala, India, seat of the government-in-exile.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued a statement expressing concern "about escalating tensions between protesters and security forces in the Tibet Autonomous Region and surrounding areas in China."

She urged the Chinese government "to allow demonstrators to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly, to refrain from any excessive use of force while maintaining order, and to ensure those arrested are not ill-treated and are accorded due process in line with international standards."

U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is following the situation "and we urge that care be taken by all concerned to avoid confrontation and violence."

Actor Richard Gere, a Buddhist who has spoken out for Tibetan independence since 1978, said he was not surprised by the uprising.

"They've been brutally repressed for 50 years, 55 years, close to six decades," Gere told CNN. "When you repress the people, they will explode. All people will explode."

As in Myanmar, where Buddhist monks led pro-democracy protests in September, Buddhism permeates every aspect of Tibetan life. While heavily regulated by communist authorities, monks remain widely respected for their piety and devotion to Tibetan culture, serving for many as living symbols of Tibetan nationalism.

Over the centuries, Tibet was at times part of China's dynastic empires. Communist forces invaded the region in 1950, to reclaim the Himalayan region and seize the commanding heights overlooking rival India. Pressured to cede more power to the communists, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising.

The latest unrest began Monday, the anniversary of the 1959 rebellion, when 300 monks from one monastery demanded the release of other monks detained last fall. But political demands soon came to the fore. Other monks and ordinary Tibetans demanded independence and unfurled the Tibetan flag. Arrests ensued, leading to more protests.

Friday's violence apparently was triggered after police moved in to stop a group of protesting monks. Crowds then grew, and when police showed up in larger numbers, protesters attacked police cars and shops.

"It was chaos everywhere. I could see fires, smoke, cars and motorcycles burning," said the Tibetan guide, who asked not to be identified for fear of government retaliation. Among the sites being patrolled by riot police, he said, was the broad square of the Potala, the Dalai Lama's former palace.

Radio Free Asia quoted other witnesses as saying that two bodies were seen on the ground in the shopping district in the old city. It said other reports put the death toll higher, but gave no figures.

China's official Xinhua News Agency issued terse reports in English only, saying people had been hospitalized with injuries and vehicles and shops burned. Hospitals contacted in Lhasa said they were ordered not to release any information.

The Tibet government called the riot an act of sabotage that was "organized, premeditated and masterminded by the Dalai clique," according to Xinhua. It said the government was taking "effective measures to properly handle the incident" and said electricity and phone service, which had been cut part of the day, was being restored.

The unrest came as Tibet, long China's poorest province, has wracked up stunning growth, in part fueled by hefty investment and subsidies from Beijing meant to alleviate resentment among Tibetans. Still, Tibetans have complained that the economic benefits have mainly enriched Chinese, many of them newcomers, leaving Tibetans feeling more marginalized.

China, which has invested billions of dollars in Olympics preparations, has staked its national prestige on the games. Five months before the games begin, it had expected to bask in international praise. Instead, the protests are attracting the kind of international attention China doesn't want.

The White House urged China to "respect Tibetan culture," while the U.S. ambassador to China urged senior Chinese officials to use restraint in dealing with the protesters, according to U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack.

"Beijing needs to respect Tibetan culture. ... We regret the tensions between the ethnic groups and Beijing," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. U.S. President George W. Bush "has said consistently that Beijing needs to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama."

European Union leaders also appealed to China to show calm in Tibet, but released a statement condemning China's handling of the protests so far.

Other Tibet watchers are less certain that international scrutiny will hold back China's hand if it feels threatened.

"Chinese leaders are not afraid of using force when they feel it's necessary. I don't think they'll be shy because there's now been violence on the demonstrators' side. I feel they think this gives them the green light to use a strong response," said Robbie Barnett, a Tibetan studies expert at Columbia University.

Tibet has been a focal point for protests by activists and international supporters ahead of the start of the Olympic torch relay, scheduled to come through China in May. Beijing plans for the torch to be carried to the top of Mount Everest, and closed its side of the mountain to climbers in a bid to prevent activists from disrupting the relay.

The timing of the Olympics has been a key factor for pro-independence advocates, said Kate Saunders, with the International Campaign for Tibet.

"There's an awareness in Tibet of the international spotlight on China and of the way that groups outside and individuals from different organizations are actively using the global spotlight to press for change in China," she said.


Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India contributed to this story.


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