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Government leader in Tibet confirms protests by monks in Lhasa

AP  March 11, 2008

The head of China's regional government in Tibet confirmed Tuesday that about 300 Tibetan monks staged a protest march this week in the capital of Lhasa but said authorities diffused the incident without arrests.

The march Monday was one of the boldest public challenges to China's rule in nearly two decades, but Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibetan government, said it was resolved without incident. The monks from Drepung monastery outside Lhasa set off on their march to the city on the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Beijing rule in 1959.

Phunstok also confirmed a smaller protest at which nine monks shouted slogans near a main temple. The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia and an overseas Tibetan Web site, phayul.com, had earlier reported the demonstrations.

Phunstok said an unspecified number of marchers were brought in for questioning and were released shortly after.

"It's really nothing," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of National People's Congress, China's annual legislative session. There was no way of independently confirming Phunstok's comments.

Drepung was sealed off Tuesday and increased numbers of armed police guarded temples in and around Lhasa, according to Radio Free Asia and phayul.com Web site, which is run by Tibetan exiles.

Up to 71 people, mostly monks, were detained following the protests, they said.

Always edgy about protests in frequently restive Tibet, China is particularly nervous in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in August. Tibetan exiles and their supporters have tried to draw the Olympic spotlight to China's often harsh 57-year rule over the Himalayan region.

Meanwhile, several hundred Tibetan exiles tried to march to Tibet from Dharmsala, India, where their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has presided over a government-in-exile since the abortive 1959 uprising.

The activists started their march Monday, but police told them they were banned from leaving the area. However, they resumed their march on Tuesday.

Monday's Lhasa protests are believed to be the largest demonstrations in the city since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence demonstrations in 1989. Since then, China has pumped investment into the region, vilified the Dalai Lama and tried to weed out his supporters among the influential Buddhist clergy _ moves that have alienated some Tibetans.



© The Tibet Bureau - Geneva 2007  |  TOP