Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tibet - "two shot dead" in protest riots

A man lies injured after rioting in Lhasa, Tibet

After a week of protests both in India and within Tibet itself, clashes with the authorities have led to arrests and injuries. In the latest reports emerging from Tibet suggest that at least two have died in riots after Chinese security forces opened fire on crowds.

There have been many protests calling for an independent Tibet but in the last seven days the protests have gained momentum as demonstrators mark the 49th Anniversary of a Tibetan uprising. That uprising saw the Dalai Lama flee Tibet and flee to India. On Monday CNN reported that about 300 Buddhist monks from Drepung Monastery near the Tibetan capital Lhasa hard towards the centre of the city but were stopped by armed police and some arrests were made. According to reports the monks were seeking the release of monks detained after they celebrated the Dalai Lama's receipt of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in October. That award had led to strong condemnation from Beijing.

By Monday afternoon further arrests were reported after fifteen monks from Sera Monastery near Lhasa, joined by two laypeople, lead a peaceful pro-Tibet march from Tsuklakhang Temple. Proclaiming pro-independence slogans the monks distributed pamphlets and raising the banned Tibetan national flag at Barkhor Street in the city centre. They were arrested immediately and were reportedly beaten. Nearby shops were ordered to close and armed police were deployed on the streets. There were also demonstration in neighbouring Qinghai province, but no arrests were reported.

Trouble escalated the following day when police fired teargas in a crowd of 2000 monks demonstrating at Sera monastery in Lhasa. Police also arrested 500 students at Lhasa university. Protests continued into Wednesday and Thursday and police began to seal off several monasteries in and around Lhasa. In one report 2 monks are said to have stabbed themselves in the chest, hands and wrists in protest of the 17 arrested at Sera monastery on Monday. The monks, from Kirti monastery in Sichuan province, were not expected to survive. But by Friday anger spread amongst the civilian population as the monks were blocked once again by police. Rioting spread across parts of the city of Lhasa with shops looted and cars set on fire.

The news coming from Tibet has become the top headline on the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. The news has been little reported on Sky News which has continued throughout Friday with rolling coverage concerning the finding of missing schoolgirl, Shannon Matthews [Sky].
Al Jazeera reported tonight that the Chinese authorities had denied firing on demonstrators, contradicting countless eyewitness reports. "We fired no gunshots," Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, told Xinhua News, the Chinese state news agency. The reporting was very different from Western media - Xinhua reporters in Lhasa saw many rioters were carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of inflammable liquids, some holding iron bars, wooden sticks and long knifes, a sign that the crowd came fully prepared and meant harm. The mobs assaulted passersby, sparing no women or children, witnesses said. They hit at things along their path, smashing windows, automatic teller machines and traffic lights. Several clothing shops, restaurants, and mobile phone stores were looted. Bikes, motorcycles and cars were burnt down.
The internet is once again proving a valuable resource in spreading news of the situation behind closed borders. Chinese media has in the past week, consistently censored both CNN and BBC World whenever reports about Tibet have been broadcast. But CCTV4 in China did start showing pictures of the rioting on Saturday morning. Most pictures showed only rioting with little footage of either army or police attempting to control the crowds. Omitted too from the Chinese news reports were pictures of the Buddhist monks that have been protesting for the last week. Al Jazeera and the BBC have shown pictures of protests outside the Chinese Embassy in London. A few dozen protesters shouted “Free Tibet” from across the street of the guarded building. New York has also seen protests calling for Tibetan independence. But foreign governments have been cautious about there reaction to the violence in Tibet, and the possible overzealous use of force by Chinese authorities. According to the latest reports the situation was calm on the streets of Lhasa. Meanwhile, in India, the Dalai Lama has expressed deep concern and said the protests were "a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people" under Chinese rule. But the Chinese authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama, exiled since 1959, for the unrest [CNN blog / CNN - timeline]

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