Dozens Reported Killed In Tibetan Protests
Chinese Authorities Threaten “Stern” Punishment If Demonstrators Do Not Surrender
DHARMSALA, India, March 15, 2008
(CBS/AP) China locked down the Tibetan capital Saturday after the largest and most violent protests against its rule in the region in nearly two decades.
At least 10 people were killed when demonstrators rampaged through Lhasa, dashing Beijing’s plans for a smooth run-up to August’s Olympics.
Also Saturday, police broke up sympathy protests in China’s western province of Gansu, as well as in Australia, India and Nepal.
Streets in Lhasa were mostly empty Saturday as a curfew remained in place. Eyewitnesses described baton-wielding police patrolling streets as fires from Friday’s violence smoldered. Reports of deaths and arrests were varied and could not be independently confirmed.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said 10 people – including two hotel employees and two shop owners – were burned to death, but no foreigners were hurt. The report did not give any other details.
Tibet’s main exile group claimed Saturday that it had confirmed reports that Chinese authorities killed 30 Tibetan demonstrators and injured many more, and unconfirmed reports of over 100 deaths.
The unrest comes two weeks before China’s highly anticipated Olympic celebrations kick into high gear with the start of the torch relay, which passes through Tibet.
Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, said the unrest would not have a negative impact on the Games or the torch relay.
Preparations to carry the Olympic torch across Mount Everest and across Tibet “have been proceeding very smoothly and according to schedule,” Sun said.
“The hosting of the Beijing Games is the 100-year dream for Chinese people and I think the Chinese people, including our compatriots in Tibet, very much look forward to hosting the Games,” Sun said.
The United States and other governments have urged China to show restraint on the protesters, though International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge deferred, saying he didn’t have details.
“It is not our job,” Rogge, the IOC president, told reporters while visiting Puerto Rico. “We are not an activist organization.”
China’s governor in Tibet vowed to punish the rioters, while law enforcement authorities urged protesters to turn themselves in by Tuesday or face unspecified punishment.
“We will deal harshly with these criminals in accordance with the law,” Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibetan government, told reporters in Beijing where he was attending a legislative meeting. “Beating, smashing, looting and burning – we absolutely condemn this sort of behavior. This plot is doomed to failure.”
He blamed the protests on followers of the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and is still Tibet’s widely revered spiritual leader.
From Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama appealed to China not to use force, saying he was “deeply concerned,” and urged Tibetans “not to resort to violence.”
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.
The latest unrest began Monday, the anniversary of the 1959 uprising, when 300 monks from one monastery demanded the release of other monks detained last fall. But political demands soon came to the fore.
The violence erupted on the fifth day, after police tried to stop monks from protesting in central Lhasa, ordinary Tibetans vented pent-up anger on Chinese, hurling stones and torching shops and cars.
“The protesters yesterday went from attacking Chinese police to attacking innocent people very, very quickly,” said a blog entry by a group of Westerners staying in a hotel in central Lhasa near the riot. “Many Tibetans were also caught in the crossfire.”
On Saturday, Xinhua said Lhasa had “reverted to calm” and electricity and phone service, which had been cut for parts of Friday, was being restored.
A notice issued by Tibet’s high court, prosecutors office and police department offered leniency for demonstrators who surrender before Tuesday. Otherwise, they will be “severely punished,” according to a notice carried on official Web sites and confirmed by prosecutors.
Plooij Frans, a Dutch tourist who left the capital Saturday morning by plane and arrived in the Nepali capital of Katmandu, said he saw about 140 trucks of soldiers drive into the city within 24 hours.
“They came down on Tibetan people really hard,” said Frans, who said his group could not return to their hotel Friday and had to stay near the airport. “Every corner there were tanks. It would have been impossible to hold any protest today.”
Government workers said they have been prevented from leaving their buildings.
“We’ve been here since yesterday. No one has been allowed to leave or come in,” said a woman who works for Lhasa’s Work Safety Bureau, which is located near the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama.
“Armored vehicles have been driving past,” she said. “Men wearing camouflage uniforms and holding batons are patrolling the streets.
It is extremely difficult to get independent verification of events in Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area. Foreigners need special travel permits, and journalists are rarely granted access except under highly controlled circumstances.
The violence 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.
Phuntsok, the Tibetan government head, said no shots were fired.
In the western Chinese town of Xiahe, police fired tear gas to disperse Buddhist monks and others staging a second day of protests Saturday.
Several hundred monks marched out of historic Labrang monastery and into Xiahe in the morning, gathering other Tibetans with them as they went, residents said.
The crowd attacked government buildings, smashing windows in the county police headquarters, before police fired tear gas to put an end to the protest. A London-based Tibetan activist group, Free Tibet Campaign, said 20 people were arrested, citing unidentified sources in Xiahe.
“Many windows in shops and houses were smashed,” said an employee at a hotel, who did not want either his or the hotel’s name used for fear of retaliation. He said he did not see any Tibetans arrested or injured but said some police were hurt.
Pockets of dissent were also springing up outside China.
In Australia, media reported that police used batons and pepper spray to quell a demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in Sydney. The Australian Associated Press reported that dozens of demonstrators were at the scene and that five were arrested.
Dozens of protesters in India launched a new march just days after more than 100 Tibetan exiles were arrested by authorities during a similar rally.
And in Nepal’s capital of Katmandu, police broke up a protest by 200 Tibetans in the Nepalese capital, beating them with bamboo batons and arresting at least 20 of them.
The Tibetans holding banners reading “Free Tibet. Stop the killings in Tibet” were demonstrating Saturday in front of the United Nations’ office in Katmandu.
A police official said they had orders to clear the streets in front of the United Nations.
A 49-year-old protester Tshering Ladum said she was only praying and demonstrating peacefully to seek support for the people in Tibet, and was attacked by the police without any reason.
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An ambulance drives by Chinese soldiers on a street in the Tibetan capital Lhasa a day after violent protests broke out, 15 Mar 2008
Voice of America –
By VOA News Chinese authorities have accused Tibetan protesters of killing innocent people and offered leniency if the demonstrators surrender before Tuesday.
Video: Protests Turn Violent in Tibetan Capital AssociatedPress
Chinese Forces Say They’ve Secured Tibet’s Capital
New York Times –
By JIM YARDLEY BEIJING – Thousands of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans clashed with the riot police in a second Chinese city on Saturday, while the authorities said they had regained control of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, a day after a rampaging mob …
Video: Protests Turn Violent in Tibetan Capital AssociatedPress