Monk Protests in Tibet Draw Chinese Security

via New York Times published on March 14, 2008




BEIJING

— Chinese security forces were reportedly surrounding three monasteries outside Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, on Thursday
after hundreds of monks took to the streets this week in what are
believed to be the largest Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in two
decades.

 
The turmoil in Lhasa occurred at a politically delicate time for China, which is facing increasing criticism over its human rights record as it prepares to play host to the Olympic Games in August and is seeking to appear harmonious to the outside world.
 

Beijing
has kept a tight lid on dissent before the Games. But people with
grievances against the governing Communist Party have tried to promote
their causes when top officials may be wary of cracking down by using
force.
 

Qin Gang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, confirmed Thursday that protests had erupted in Lhasa, but declined to provide details. He described the situation as stable.
 

“In
the past couple of days, a few monks in Lhasa have made some
disturbances in an effort to cause unrest,” Mr. Qin said Thursday at a
news conference. “Thanks to the efforts of the local government and the
democratic administration of the temples, the situation in Lhasa has been stabilized.”

 


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 “splitist” 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.
 

China plans to have the Olympic torch carried into Tibet over Mount Everest — a route that has brought protests from many Tibet advocacy groups. Fearing
more demonstrations, officials said they would prohibit climbing on the
north face of Everest until after the torch ceremony.
 
The
defiance reported this week in Lhasa is highly unusual. Security is
heavy there, and the penalty for protesting is harsh. News of the
protests has been censored in the Chinese news media, and Beijing does not allow foreign journalists to travel to Lhasa without permission.
But accounts from Tibetan advocacy groups, from the United
States-financed Radio Free Asia and from tourists’ postings on the
Internet suggest that protests emerged from three of the most famous
monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism.
 
Robert Barnett, a Tibet specialist at


Columbia University


who has communicated with Tibetan exiles, said
the initial incident occurred Monday when about 400
monks left Drepung Loseling Monastery intending to march five miles
west to the city center. Police officers stopped the march at the
halfway point and arrested 50 or 60 monks.
 
But
Mr. Barnett said the remaining monks held the equivalent of a sit-down
strike and were joined by an additional 100 monks from Drepung.
 

“They were demanding specific changes on religious restrictions in the monastery,” Mr. 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, outside the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred temple in Tibet.
About a dozen monks from the Sera Monastery staged a pro-independence
demonstration, waving a Tibetan flag. Police officers arrested the
monks. Foreign tourists posted video on the Internet of officers shooing onlookers away.
 
The arrests set off another protest on Tuesday.
Witnesses told Radio Free Asia that 500 or 600 monks poured out of the
Sera Monastery, about two miles north of the 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 the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.



 

A protest was reported on Wednesday at the Ganden Monastery, 35 miles east of Lhasa.
 
Radio Free Asia reported Thursday that two monks at Drepung had attempted suicide.
 

The protests were timed to coincide with the 49th anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibet uprising that forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India.
Mr. Barnett said they were the largest in Lhasa since 1989, when protests by monks from Drepung and Sera led to a bloody clash with Chinese security forces.
 
He
said he doubted that the protests were coordinated, though he said the
small group of Sera monks arrested Monday must have anticipated a
confrontation. Their photographs have already been forwarded to Tibetan
exiles in India and posted on the Internet by groups that support independence for Tibet.
 
He
said that Chinese troops seemed to be more restrained than in the past,
even as the protesters took the bold step of waving the Tibetan flag.
 
The Olympics also have emboldened protesters outside China. Tibetan exiles in northern India who vowed this week to march to Lhasa over six months to protest China’s
control of their homeland were arrested Thursday. They then began a
hunger strike that they said would go on until they were released.
 
 

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