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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan capital in turmoil as violence erupts

March 15, 2008

International Herald Tribune
March 14, 2008

BEIJING: Violent protests erupted Friday in a busy market area of the
Tibetan capital, Lhasa, as Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans
clashed with Chinese security forces. Witnesses say the protesters
burned shops, cars, military vehicles and at least one tourist bus.

The chaotic scene marked the most violent demonstrations since
Buddhist monks began a series of protests Monday, the anniversary of a
failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

By Friday night, the Chinese authorities had placed much of the
central part of the city under a curfew, including neighborhoods
around different Buddhist monasteries, according to two Lhasa
residents reached by telephone. The military police were blocking
roads in some ethnic Tibetan neighborhoods, one of the residents said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing warned Americans to stay away
from Lhasa. The embassy said it had "received firsthand reports from
American citizens in the city who report gunfire and other indications
of violence."

Xinhua, the state-run news agency, issued a two-sentence bulletin, in
English, confirming that shops in Lhasa had been set on fire and that
other stores had closed because of violence on the streets. But the
protests were otherwise censored in the Chinese press.

The protests, the largest in Lhasa in nearly two decades, appear to be
becoming a significant problem for the ruling Communist Party, which
is holding its annual meeting of the National People's Congress this
week in Beijing. China is eager to present a harmonious image to the
rest of the world as Beijing prepares to play host to the Olympic
Games in August.

Information emerging about the protests Friday was scattered and
difficult to verify. But witnesses say the violence erupted early
Friday at the Tromsikhang Market, a large concrete structure built in
the old Tibetan section of the city by the Chinese authorities in the
early 1990s.

"It's chaos in the streets," said a person who answered the telephone
at a bread shop near the market.

A local travel agent, reached by telephone, said a riot had broken out
at the market and around the nearby Ramoche Temple because of friction
between Tibetan and Han Chinese traders. The agent said fires erupted
near Ramoche Temple and elsewhere in the market area, while Tibetan
traders also overturned a tour bus and set it on fire.

"There was a fight between the bus owner and the Tibetans who set the
fire," said the agent, who is Han Chinese. "But not serious. Only
several people got hurt."

The demonstrations apparently expanded as protesters set fire to other
shops. News agencies reported that monks from Ramoche Temple went into
the streets and clashed with police officers. "The monks are still
protesting," one witness told The Associated Press. "Police and army
cars were burned. There are people crying. Hundreds of people,
including monks and civilians are in the protests."

Meanwhile, anxious tourists stranded in Lhasa posted worried comments
on online forums for travelers. "The situation seems to be very
nervous and paranoid up here," one person wrote in broken grammar on a
Lonely Planet guide chat room. "There is police and military
everywhere. Suddenly you would see some policeman running and rushing

Another Lhasa resident reached by telephone described the protests
Friday as the most violent of the week.

"There have been several riots in recent days," said Liu, the
resident, who would give only her surname. She said friends who had
witnessed the riots had described them to her.

"Today's riot is more serious," she said. "I have a full-time job in a
state-owned company, and we got notice from our superiors not to go
watch the riots."

Beijing has kept a tight lid on dissent in the months before the
Olympic Games. But people with grievances against the governing
Communist Party have tried to promote their causes at a time when,
with international attention focuses on China, top officials may be
wary of cracking down using force.

Tibet was taken militarily by China in 1951 and has remained
contentious, particularly because of the bitter relations between the
Communist Party and the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of
Tibetan Buddhism. Sporadic talks between China and the Dalai Lama's
representatives have produced no results, and Beijing continues to
condemn him as a "splittist" determined to sever the region's ties to
China. The Dalai Lama has said that he accepts Chinese rule but that
Tibetans need greater autonomy to practice their religion.

Accounts from Tibetan advocacy groups, from the U.S.-financed Radio
Free Asia and from tourists' postings on the Internet suggest that
protests emerged from three of the most famous monasteries in Tibetan

Robert Barnett, a Tibet specialist at Columbia University who has
communicated with Tibetan exiles, said the initial incident occurred
Monday afternoon when about 400 monks left Drepung Loseling Monastery
intending to march five miles, or eight kilometers, west to the city
center. Police officers stopped the march at the halfway point and
arrested 50 or 60 monks.

But Barnett said the remaining monks held the equivalent of a sit-down
strike and were joined by 100 more monks from Drepung.

The monks "were demanding specific changes on religious restrictions
in the monastery," Barnett said. He said monks wanted the authorities
to ease rules on "patriotic education" in which monks are required to
study government propaganda and write denunciations of the Dalai Lama.

On Tuesday morning, the Drepung monks apparently agreed to return to
the monastery.

But another protest was under way in the heart of the city, near
Jokhang Temple, the most sacred temple in Tibet. About a dozen monks
from Sera Monastery staged a pro-independence protest, waving a
Tibetan flag in front of onlookers in the crowded square just outside
the temple. Police officers arrested the monks. Foreign tourists
posted video on the Internet of officers shooing away people.

The arrests sparked another protest Tuesday. Witnesses told Radio Free
Asia that 500 to 600 monks had poured out of Sera Monastery, about
three kilometers north of Jokhang Temple. They shouted slogans and
demanded the release of their fellow monks.

"Free our people, or we won't go back!" the monks chanted, Radio Free
Asia reported. "We want an independent Tibet!" Witnesses said that the
police had fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

A protest was reported Wednesday at Ganden Monastery, about 55
kilometers east of Lhasa.

Radio Free Asia reported Thursday that two monks at Drepung had
attempted suicide.

Barnett said the protests were the largest in Lhasa since 1989, when
protests by monks from the Drepung and Sera monasteries led to a
bloody clash with Chinese security forces and the imposition of
martial law.

Huang Yuanxi, Zhang Jing and Jake Hooker contributed research from Beijing.
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