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Chinese braced for Tibetan monk protests

Latest update : 2008-03-14

Following days of unprecedented protests by Buddhist monks, Chinese troops in Lhasa surrounded the Tibetan capital's three largest monastries as witnesses reported skirmishes in other Tibetan towns.

Troops have surrounded the three biggest monasteries in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, a rights group said Friday, as fears mounted of a severe crackdown following protests against Chinese rule.
Chinese authorities locked down the sites after a third day of protests in Lhasa saw hundreds of Buddhist monks demonstrate, the International Campaign for Tibet said.
"There is an intensifying atmosphere of fear and tension in Lhasa at the moment," International Campaign for Tibet spokeswoman Kate Saunders, who spoke to people in the capital, told AFP.
The protests -- believed to the biggest in Tibet in two decades -- coincided with demonstrations in India this week by Tibetans seeking to pressure China over its rule of the Himalayan region ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.
The protests also coincided with the anniversary of an uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule that Tibetan groups say was brutally crushed and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Saunders said the initial response by Chinese authorities to the Lhasa protests had been more muted than in the past, although they had already begun to question monks, while other rights groups reported protesters being detained.
"So far there is no evidence that the authorities will depart from their standard pattern when faced with strong dissent -- repression, crackdown and re-education," she said from London.
In a first rebuke from a foreign government, Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier on Thursday expressed "serious concerns" about China's actions.
The International Campaign for Tibet said monks at the Sera monastery in Lhasa were on a hunger strike, while there were also reports of the protests spreading to two remote rural monasteries within Tibet.
Tourists have been prevented from entering the main monasteries -- Ganden, Drepung and Sera -- in Lhasa, the campaign said in a statement.
A popular agency for tourists travelling to Tibet, based in neighbouring Sichuan province, told AFP on Friday that five monasteries, including the three largest in Lhasa, were all closed to visitors.
A spokesman for the Tibet Autonomous Region, who gave his name only as Fu, denied there had been any arrests, that monasteries had been surrounded, or that protests had spread to rural Tibet.
He insisted the monasteries were open to tourists. The foreign ministry in Beijing had no immediate comment when contacted by AFP on Friday.
On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang conceded there had been protests in Lhasa, but said the situation had been "stabilised."
Pro-Tibet groups and Amnesty International said tear gas and electric prods had been used to disperse the initial protests, while some monks had been detained.
In India, police on Thursday arrested 100 Tibetans who were trying to walk to Tibet in a Mahatma Gandhi-style peaceful march.
"We are witnessing the most visible wave of peaceful dissent against Chinese rule in the Tibetan capital for the past two decades," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
"What is unusual is the harsh crackdown on similar protests in democratic India and Nepal, which raises concerns about whether China is pressuring those countries to silence Tibetans."
The last protests in Tibet on this scale took place during pro-independence demonstrations in 1989, when Chinese authorities declared martial law in Lhasa to quell the monks.
China sent troops in to "liberate" Tibet in 1950, and officially began its rule of the region a year later.
The failed 1959 uprising that the protesters commemorated this week forced Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to flee to India.

Date created : 2008-03-14