Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting near the historic Labrang Monastery
BEIJING, April 9 — A small group of monks at a major Tibetan Buddhist monastery in northwest China defied authorities and staged a protest in front of foreign reporters on Wednesday, a witness and state media said.
About 15 monks from the Labrang monastery in Gansu province approached the journalists carrying banners and voicing support for exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, said the witness, who was on a government-controlled media tour.
"They said in Chinese, 'We want more freedom, more human rights and we want to see the Dalai Lama'," said Caroline Puel, a journalist with France's Le Point magazine.
The protest lasted about 10 minutes and ended when government officials conducting the tour urged the foreign journalists to leave.
China's official Xinhua news agency also confirmed that a group of monks had "interrupted" the media tour, but gave few other details.
The incident marks the second time that protesting monks upstaged a media tour organised by the government through areas hit by recent Tibetan rioting.
On March 27, monks at the Jokhang temple in Lhasa interrupted a similar tightly-controlled media tour aimed at showing calm had returned to the Tibetan capital.
The Jokhang monks called for the return of the Dalai Lama and denounced official Chinese versions of the Tibetan unrest as "lies".
Anti-Chinese rioting erupted in Lhasa on March 14 and spilled over into Tibetan-populated areas elsewhere in China, such as Gansu.
Labrang monks led a rally of up to 4,000 people at the monastery on March 15, according to the Free Tibet Campaign, and foreign reporters were subsequently barred from the area.
Labrang is one of Tibetan Buddhism's most important monasteries.
Tibetan exiled leaders say more than 150 people have been killed in the Chinese crackdown on the protests. China says it has killed no-one, and blamed Tibetan "rioters" for the deaths of 20 people.
China has blamed the unrest on a small number of agitators controlled by the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in northern India after a failed uprising in 1959 against Tibetan rule.
China has denied that simmering anger at Beijing's rule played a role in the unrest.