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12 Mar 2008 07:18
Hundreds of Tibetan monks have taken to the streets of Lhasa in the biggest protest against communist rule in almost two decades, it emerged on Tuesday.
The show of defiance—which took place on the anniversary of a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959—raises tensions in the Himalayan region as the world spotlight shifts to Beijing’s often harsh rule ahead of the Olympics. Chinese police arrested 50 to 60 monks, according to Radio Free Asia.
The government declined to confirm the figures, but a spokesperson confirmed a demonstration had taken place.
“In Lhasa city there were monks from some temples who, under the instigation and encouragement of a small group of people, carried out an illegal activity that threatened social stability,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said.
Chinese authorities keep a tight grip on information from Tibet, but reports suggest the protest was the largest since 1989, when martial law was introduced by the then party secretary of Tibet, Hu Jintao, now president.
According to overseas Tibetan groups, the demonstration started when seven to 10 monks protested in front of the Jokhang, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism. A large crowd gathered to protect them from People’s Armed Police units, but they were detained. Soon after up to 300 monks from Drepung monastery, just outside Lhasa, marched in support, but they were stopped at heavily guarded checkpoints, where dozens were detained. Armed police then surrounded the main monasteries.
Champa Phuntsok, chairperson of the Tibetan government, said the monks were released and the matter resolved without incident. “It’s really nothing,” he said. But Tibetan supporters overseas said the unrest indicated the growing frustration at the lack of progress in talks between the Dalai Lama and Beijing.
“For the first time since 1989, Chinese authorities face the possibility of unrest in Sera and Drepung,” said Kate Saunders of the United States-based International Campaign for Tibet. “Feelings are running particularly high because it is Olympic year and the spotlight is on China. Tibetans are more willing to take risks.”
In India, about 100 refugees in Dharamsala—the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama—vowed to defy a police order to march on Tibet. In Nepal, police used batons to break up a march on the Chinese embassy. - guardian.co.uk Â
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