Chinese police raid Tibetan monastery
Reuters[Friday, April 18, 2008 02:14]
BEIJING (Reuters) - Armed police raided a monastery in northwest China and detained dozens of Tibetan Buddhist monks on Thursday, following anti-Chinese protests in February, according to a Beijing-based source.

The police seized audiovisual disks and pictures of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the source, who has wide contacts among Tibetans, quoted relatives of the monks as saying.

They took away four fifths of the monastery's inhabitants -- around 200 people -- and dozens more lay locals, some of whom had tried to prevent police from detaining the monks.

The monks in Tongren, in remote Qinghai province, protested in February after police disrupted a Buddhist ceremony in the local monastery. They shouted slogans calling for religious freedom and wishing the Dalai Lama a long life, the source said.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and detained some 200 monks. The next day, thousands of monks marched in protest around the county seat, and the local government released the monks who had been arrested a day earlier, the source added.

Further protests were then held by the monks from the monastery, whose name in Chinese the source gave as Longwu.

The source did not know the precise reason for the latest detentions.

The protest in Tongren came before a series of monk-led protests in Lhasa early last month that escalated into violent riots on March 14. Unrest then spread to other areas inhabited by ethnic Tibetans.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the violence in a push for independence and to derail the Olympic Games, which China hosts this summer.

Tibetan activists and Western sympathisers have dogged the global torch relay for the games with protests.

The Dalai Lama has rejected the accusations, speaking out against the use of violence, calling for talks with China and expressing support for the Beijing Games.

Telephone calls to the Qinghai provincial government spokesman's office seeking comment on the arrests at Tongren were not answered.

Separately, the official Xinhua news agency said that two monks who had participated in riots in Gansu province had "surrendered to authorities".

Since the unrest, Chinese security forces have sealed off ethnic Tibetan parts of western China, and Tibet has been closed to tourists.

Chinese official media has reported that the region will reopen to foreign tourists from May 1, but on Thursday a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that date was not confirmed.

"I think the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region will make an assessment of the local situation and take a decision according to local conditions," she told a news conference.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; writing Ben Blanchard; editing by Valerie Lee and Andrew Roche)