KATHMANDU - Armed Chinese police fired tear-gas Tuesday to disperse a crowd of several hundred protesting Tibetan Buddhist monks near the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
It was the second day of protests by monks around a key Tibetan anniversary, after hundreds of monks from a major monastery staged a rare demonstration March 10 that was stopped by police.
“There were probably a couple of thousand armed police, PSB personnel, wearing different uniforms. Police fired tear-gas into the crowd,” one witness told RFA’s Tibetan service. PSB denotes the China’s Public Security Bureau.
The monks, estimated at 500 to 600 people, had left Sera monastery around 3 p.m. March 11 to demand the release of fellow Sera monks detained for protesting a day earlier. They shouted slogans as they walked, witnesses said, including, "We want freedom!" "Free our people!" "We want an independent Tibet!" and "Free our people or we won't go back!"
“When they arrived at the police station near the monastery, they were stopped by armed police who had been dispatched to guard the area.” On Tuesday, “they didn’t return to the monastery until around 9:30 p.m.,” one witness said.
Authoritative sources in the area also described hearing gunshots overnight from the general direction of Drepung monastery, with all roads to the monastery blocked by police. Fifty to 60 monks from Drepung monastery outside Lhasa were detained Monday as they tried to walk the roughly 10-km (5-mile) route from Drepung to the city center.
They were marching in a group of some 300 Drepung monks on the 49th anniversary of an uprising crushed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Sources said the monks planned to protest at the Potala Palace in the heart of Lhasa to demand the release of monks detained last October shortly after the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, received a Congressional Gold Medal in Washington.
Eyewitnesses meanwhile said 11 protesters, including the nine monks from Sera monastery whose detention prompted the protest on Tuesday, were severely beaten Monday when People’s Armed Police pushed through a crowd to detain them outside the Tsuklakhang cathedral in central Lhasa. Whether and where they remained in custody on Tuesday was unclear.
The 11 detainees were identified as: Lobsang Ngodrub, Lobsang Sherab, Lodroe, Sonam Lodroe, Lobsang, Tsultrim Palden, Geleg, Pema Karwang, Zoepa, Thubdron, and Phurdan. No further details were available.
Lhasa neighborhood committees meanwhile mobilized to inspect every household in predominantly Tibetan areas of the city, searching for unregistered monks or nuns sheltering illicitly in private homes, sources told RFA’s Tibetan service.
Monks in two more monasteries in Qinghai province—Lutsang monastery, in Mangra (in Chinese, Guinan) county, and Ditsa monastery in Bayan (in Chinese, Hualong) county—also staged protests on Monday, sources said. Armed police surrounded Ditsa monastery during the protest but neither intervened nor detained anyone there, the sources said.
March 10, 2008, marked the 49th anniversary of a 1959 uprising crushed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The Dalai Lama, now 72, subsequently fled into exile in northern India. Drepung, founded in the 15th century, is one of largest monasteries in Tibet and ranks as one of the most important in the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tensions have been escalating in recent years in traditionally Tibetan areas of what is now western China, with Chinese authorities taking a tougher line against what they regard as ethnic “splittism,” or resistance to Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama is regarded by China as a dangerous figure seeking independence for his homeland, although he says he wants only autonomy and for Chinese repression of Tibetans to end.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, Tuesday quoted a top official from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as saying the local government properly handled the monks’ protest, with everyone “persuaded to leave in peace.”
“More than 300 lamas entered the city proper of Lhasa in groups on March 10, but were later persuaded to leave in peace. No disturbance to social stability was caused,” Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, was quoted say saying.
The lamas had entered Lhasa “under the instigation of certain individuals,” said the chairman. “To prevent unnecessary disturbances from happening, we did some persuasion and they all left in peace,” he added.
Original reporting in Uke, Amdo, and Kham by RFA’s Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Copy-edited by Richard Finney.