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Crying monks disrupt China's Tibet media tour

March 28, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Beijing

A tightly-controlled trip to Lhasa organised for the Western media by
the Chinese government backfired when it was disrupted by weeping monks
calling for Tibet to be freed.

In extraordinary scenes, monks from the Jokhang Temple, the spiritual
heart of Tibetan Buddhism and among the most controlled places in the
country, broke down in tears in front of reporters and government minders.

"Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!" shouted one, as he beat his
chest with his fists.

"We want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, we want to be free," said

Others gesticulated wildly as they crowded round a camera, talking in
both Tibetan and Mandarin.

"They want us to crush the Dalai Lama and that is not right," they said.

The tour was arranged by the Chinese foreign ministry to show its it had
restored order following protests across the country and violent rioting
in Lhasa.

It was also intended to promote China's view that opposition to its rule
was limited and that unrest was orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, despite
his calls that opposition should be peaceful.

The journalists were taken to shops burned in the rioting, including a
clothes store where five women died, before visiting Jokhang in the
heart of the old quarter.

They were then lectured by a senior monk, who is also on the
government-run administrative committee, on the importance of "national

But as they entered the central shrine, a group of about thirty younger
monks surrounded them, shouting: "They are tricking you! Don't believe
what they say! They are telling lies."

"It was an extraordinary act of defiance," said Calum Macleod, a British
reporter for USA Today who witnessed the scenes. "They said they had
heard we were coming and wanted to get the message out to the world that
they wanted more freedom.
Monks surround foreign journalists in Tibet

"They said there would be more protests until the government negotiated
with the Dalai Lama."

Other reporters said the monks were denying any connection between the
Dalai Lama and riots in Lhasa, and alleging that some senior monks were
in fact Communist Party officials.

As officials hustled the journalists away, some monks said that they
knew they would be arrested for the protest but were not afraid. As the
doors of the temple slammed behind them, reporters saw the monks filing
back upstairs to their dormitories. Later, paramilitary police had taken
up positions around the temple.

Officials tried to play down the protest. "They always tell lies to
foreign reporters," said one.

In Beijing, a government spokesman said he had "no information" on the
protest and added: "I would like to stress that, including the monks,
the people of various ethnic groups in Tibet are resolutely safeguarding
the national unity and oppose separatist activities."
Monks return to their dormitories after surrounding journalists

While journalists have been forcibly excluded from all Tibetan-occupied
areas since the wave of protest began, state media have also attacked
Western reporters for bias.

A group of 26 journalists from Hong Kong and abroad were chosen for the
trip. The British representative was the Financial Times.

The Dalai Lama welcomed the tour, but called for journalists to be given
"complete freedom" to report.

Chhime Chhoekyapa, his secretary, appealed to the international
community to demand the safety of the protesting monks. "Brute force
alone cannot suppress the long simmering resentment that exists in
Tibet," he said.
But President Hu Jintao was unbending in his refusal to consider
negotiating with the Dalai Lama when pressed to do so by President
George W Bush in a telephone call, saying that he was behind "activities
to fan and mastermind violent crimes in Tibet... and to sabotage the
upcoming Beijing Olympic Games".

President Bush has said he will continue with plans to attend the
opening ceremony of the Games, but some European leaders have already
pulled out. Donald Tusk, prime minister of Poland, has joined President
Vaclav of the Czech Republic in announcing he will not attend.

"I do not intend to take part in the Olympic Games opening ceremony in
Beijing," Mr Tusk told the Dziennik newspaper. "My evaluation is very
clear: the presence of politicians at the inauguration of the Olympics
seems inappropriate."

The possibility of further action will be discussed by EU foreign
ministers meeting in Slovenia.
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