BEIJING, March 13 (Reuters) - The biggest protests by
Tibetan monks in nearly two decades have rippled into Chinese
provinces populated by Tibetans, as the government's tough
response draws condemnation from international groups.
The demonstrations over past days have followed marches
around the world to mark the 49th anniversary of an uprising
against Communist rule in the remote, mountainous region that
has become a focus for protest ahead of this year's Beijing
While China has focused on condemning foreign-based critics
of its presence in Tibet, the shows of bold defiance within its
borders are likely to make security preparations for the
Olympic Games an even bigger worry for officials.
"The reports of protests outside Lhasa show that Tibetans
know the eyes of the world are upon them and are determined not
to let the momentum drop," Matt Whitticase of the London-based
Free Tibet Campaign told Reuters.
On Monday, 500 monks from Drepung monastery defied
authorities by staging a rare march in the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa, an act that the Chinese government called "an illegal
activity that threatened social stability".
About 2,000 Chinese security personnel fired tear gas to
try to disperse 600 monks from Sera monastery taking part in a
second day of street protests in Lhasa, a source told Reuters.
They demanded the release of about a dozen fellow monks
from Sera detained this month for waving a Tibetan flag and
shouting pro-independence slogans, the source said.
"The demonstrations are the largest by monks since the 1989
protests that led to the imposition of martial law in Tibet's
capital," the International Campaign for Tibet said in a
Another rights group said about 400 monks from Lutsang
monastery in the northwestern province of Qinghai, known in
Tibetan as Amdo, protested on Monday and shouted slogans for
their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to return.
The Dalai Lama fled to India after the failed uprising in
1959, nine years after People's Liberation Army troops marched
into the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region. The
protesters shouted "Free Tibet!", the Free Tibet Campaign said
About 100 monks from Myera monastery in the neighbouring
province of Gansu also protested on Monday, the rights group
said, adding that police were investigating who was involved.
A source with knowledge of the protests quoted monks and
witnesses as saying the sound of gunfire was heard outside the
walls of monasteries. But no casualties have been reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the
protesters in Lhasa were "seeking to spark social turmoil".
"This was carefully planned by the Dalai clique in a bid
to separate Tibet and sabotage Tibetan people's normal life of
stability and harmony," he told a regular news conference.
The strife "could be a harbinger of further clashes between
Tibetans and Chinese authorities in this Olympics year", said
Mary Beth Markey, vice president of the International Campaign
The demonstrations in the heavily policed region are
precisely what China's Communist leaders are keen to avoid
ahead of the Olympics starting Aug 8.
On Wednesday, China closed the north face of Mount Everest
to expeditions until after the Olympic torch ascends the peak
in early May. Five Americans, including an ethnic Tibetan,
unfurled "Free Tibet" banners on Everest -- known in China by
its Tibetan name, Qomalangma -- last year.
China's neighbour, India, which hosts many exiled Tibetans,
has been careful to distance itself from the protests.
Indian police arrested around 100 Tibetans on Thursday,
dragging them into police vans, when they tried to march to the
Chinese border to press claims for independence and protest the
The marchers set off on Monday as part of the global
protests, leaving from Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and
the refugees' "government-in-exile".
The Indian police have said they are acting on government
orders to restrain the marchers, claiming they have breached an
agreement not to hold "anti-Chinese activities" on Indian soil.
Asked if China was satisfied with India's handling of the
protests, Qin held back from direct comment.
"We hope that the Indian side will, based on broader
considerations of bilateral relations, abide by the promise it
made," he said.