Reports: Tibet protests turn violent
By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer 4 minutes ago
BEIJING - Angry protesters set shops ablaze and
gunfire was reported in Tibet's regional capital
Friday as the largest demonstrations in two decades
against Chinese rule turned violent just months ahead
of the Beijing Olympics.
The protests, in their fifth day and led by monks
supporting Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai
Lama, threatened to cast a shadow over China's efforts
to portray a unified and prosperous nation in the
run-up to the games.
Protesters set shops and police vehicles on fire in
Lhasa, state media and witnesses said. The U.S.
Embassy in Beijing warned Americans to stay away,
saying it had "received firsthand reports from
American citizens in the city who report gunfire and
other indications of violence."
The protests are the largest and most sustained in
Lhasa since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence
demonstrations in 1989. Since then, China has invested
in the region, vilified the Dalai Lama and tried to
weed out his supporters among the influential Buddhist
But Tibetans inside and outside the country have
sought to use the Olympic Games' high profile to call
attention to their cause. Beijing has accused the
Dalai Lama who many Tibetans consider their rightful
ruler of trying to sabotage the games.
A Lhasa resident, who asked to be unnamed for fear of
government reprisal, said military police had closed
all roads leading to the city center.
"The situation is quite serious. There's a curfew in
the city and I can see military police block all the
roads to the center of the city. Nearly all the stores
and shops are closed," the resident said.
A Tibetan woman who has family in the city said
protesters were setting fires.
"The monks are still protesting. Police and army cars
were burned. There are people crying," said the
witness, who also requested anonymity for fear of
government reprisal. "Hundreds of people, including
monks and civilians are in the protest."
Tensions in the Tibetan capital have increased in
recent days. The city's three biggest monasteries were
sealed off by thousands of soldiers and armed police
in a government crackdown against the protests, the
U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia reported Friday.
Monks at the major Sera Monastery launched a hunger
strike Thursday to demand that armed police withdraw
from the monastery grounds and detained monks be
released, RFA reported.
At the Drepung Monastery, two Buddhist monks are in
critical condition after attempting to commit suicide
by slashing their wrists, RFA said, citing
Also believed to be under watch is a third monastery,
Ganden. The London-based International Campaign for
Tibet said monks from the Ganden monastery mounted
protests Thursday, becoming the last of the three
historically important monasteries known as the "Three
Pillars of Tibet" to join in the demonstrations.
Tourists were mainly staying off the streets and were
being warned away from all the monasteries, said one
tourist staying at a Lhasa hotel.
"The Red Army is downtown. It's not safe to walk
around. All the major monasteries are closed," said
the tourist, who refused to give her name or her
nationality. "Tourists don't feel comfortable walking
around because police are all over."
The Chinese government was trying to keep foreigners
from getting in, with travel agents in China and
neighboring Nepal refusing to issue the special
permits needed to visit the region.
It is extremely difficult to get independent
verification of events in Tibet since China maintains
rigid control over the area. Journalists are rarely
granted access except under highly controlled
Officials who answered phones at police and Communist
Party offices in Tibet on Friday said they had no
information about the violence and refused to comment.
Beijing maintains that Tibet is historically a part of
China. But many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region
was virtually independent for centuries and accuse
China of trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping
it with Han people, the majority Chinese ethnic group.
The protests by the Buddhist monks began Monday, the
anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising
against Beijing rule.
In northern India, meanwhile, organizers said more
than 100 Tibetan exiles began a two-week detention
after police arrested them during a march to their
homeland to protest China's hosting of the Olympics.
March coordinator Tenzin Palkyi said Friday the exiles
were being kept in detention in a state-run hotel
while authorities investigate the charges of
threatening the "peace and tranquility" of the region.