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Tibetan teen protesters held

March 21, 2010

2010-03-18 -

(Reuters) - Beijing - At least 20 Tibetan high school students have been
detained during protests in the streets of at least two towns in western
China this week, residents said on Thursday.

The protests mark the anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule.

The demonstrations appear to be the first unrest in tightly controlled
Tibetan areas at a highly sensitive time. March is the anniversary of both
spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's flight into exile decades ago, and an
uprising across the areas in 2008.

Beijing has stepped up its security presence and promised to pour extra cash
into development to calm the restive and strategically vital border region.

But critics say if China does not address Tibetan concerns about the loss of
their culture and heritage, stability will remain elusive.

At least 20 teenagers were taken into custody by police in the remote
western town of Hezuo on Wednesday, shortly after a larger group began a
protest, a hotel clerk there said.

Hezuo is in a Tibetan corner of Gansu province.

She declined to give her name, or comment on the motive for the protest,
saying "only themselves know".

Security tightened

On March 14, dozens of teenagers also took to the streets of Machu, also in
Gansu, chanting pro-Tibetan slogans, said a supermarket manager who himself
is Han Chinese. He was not sure if anyone was arrested.

The town is now crawling with military police and feels safe and calm, said
the manager, who declined to give his name because ethnic tensions in
Tibetan areas are politically sensitive, and discussing them with foreign
journalists is risking punishment.

A string of checkpoints have also been set up along the road to Langmu
temple, around 70km away, since Sunday, a hotel employee near the monastery
said, but added that he did not know the details of what happened in Machu.

The Gansu foreign affairs office and the Gansu provincial information office
said they had not heard of any protests. Police in Machu and Hezuo did not
answer calls.

Historical flashpoint

Historically Tibetan Machu, surrounded by vast grasslands, is in one of the
areas that were worst hit by famines and purges during the rule of Mao
Zedong and foreigners have only been allowed to visit since 1999.

Rioting flared in the town on March 16 2008, the weekend after violence in
Tibet's capital Lhasa.

Protests there against Chinese rule, led by Buddhist monks, gave way to
torrid violence, with rioters torching shops and turning on residents
including Han Chinese and Hui Muslims. Many Tibetans see Hans as intruders
threatening their culture.

At least 19 people died in the unrest, which sparked waves of protests
across Tibetan areas ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Pro-Tibet groups abroad say more than 200 Tibetans have died in a subsequent
crackdown across the region. Beijing has denied that and said it used
minimal force.


Last year there were some fresh outbreaks of violence, but this year the
area appears to have been largely quiet.

Rights groups warn that Beijing's heavy-handed response to the unrest, and
the extra security forces it has poured into the region to keep the peace,
cannot not bring lasting calm.

"Further repression will breed precisely the kind of instability the Chinese
government fears," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human
Rights Watch.

"Addressing underlying grievances and allowing Tibetans to enjoy basic
rights of expression, assembly, and due process is the only way to ensure
the 'harmony' Beijing so craves."
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