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Military, Police at Tibetan Monasteries
AP[Thursday, March 13, 2008 19:02]

BEIJING, March 13: Soldiers and police have been deployed around two Buddhist monasteries in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa where monks launched protests against Chinese rule earlier this week, witnesses and residents said Thursday.

A man who answered the phone at the Sera monastery said monks have been confined inside its walls, shut off from outside contact, and are relying on dwindling food supplies.

The monastery was "surrounded by many people," said the man, who refused to identify himself or say whether he was a monk.

Another Lhasa resident, who also refused to be identified, said the Drepung monastery was encircled by "three layers" of army personnel while the Sera monastery had been surrounded by more than 2,000 police.

The resident said more than 10 trucks filled with soldiers, nearly a dozen police cars and also ambulances were seen heading to the area.

A Foreign Ministry official in Beijing had no immediate comment late Thursday on the reported police and military presence.

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.

Large-scale demonstrations by the Buddhist monks began Monday, as they staged a bold, public challenge to China's rule using the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Beijing rule in 1959.

Demonstrations also spilled over into traditionally Tibetan areas in the neighboring province of Qinghai. Monks at two other monasteries — the Lutsang monastery and Ditsa monastery — also held small protests but were not detained by police, according to U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia.

An official in the Bureau of Religious Affairs in Guinan County, where Lutsang is located, confirmed that protests had taken place at the monastery.

"For the past few days, we have been on high alert for protests and other formal gatherings by monks as this has been a widespread occurrence," said the official, who refused to give his name.

Earlier Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang confirmed that protests had taken place, but said the situation had "stabilized." Qin accused exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of inciting separatism, though he provided no evidence.

"In recent days, a few monks in Lhasa city have made some disturbances," Qin said at a regular news briefing.

"This is a political scheme by the Dalai group, attempting to separate China and try to make some unrest in the normal harmonious, peaceful life of Tibetan people," he said.

Qin also said China's determination to "safeguard national unification" is firm, so further protests "will not take place."

In the Lhasa protests, the involvement of monks from Sera and Drepung is seen as particularly provocative. The monasteries traditionally trained Buddhist scholars who led theocratic Tibet before China supplanted the Dalai Lama and the rest of the theocracy.

After two demonstrations Monday — one in which 300 or more monks from Drepung marched on the streets of the capital, the other in which a smaller groups of monks from Sera protested — police arrested an unknown number of protesters, according to reports and witnesses.

On Tuesday, police used tear gas to disperse an estimated 500 to 600 monks from the nearby Sera monastery who were marching to demand the release of imprisoned fellow monks, Radio Free Asia reported.
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