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Hundreds of monks protest in Tibet

March 13, 2008

The Guardian, UK
March 11 2008

Tibetan monks, surrounded by Chinese soldiers, lay down their arms in
the mountains after an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese rule that
led to the exile of the Dalai Lama

Tibetan monks, surrounded by Chinese soldiers, lay down their arms in
the mountains after an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese rule in
1959 that led to the exile of the Dalai Lama. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Hundreds of Tibetan monks have taken to the streets of Lhasa in the
biggest protest against communist rule in almost two decades, it
emerged today.

The show of defiance - which took place on the anniversary of a failed
anti-Chinese uprising in 1959 - raised tensions in the Himalayan
region, as the world spotlight shifts to Beijing's often harsh rule
ahead of the Olympics.

Chinese police arrested 50 to 60 monks, according to Radio Free Asia.
The government declined to confirm the figures, but a spokesman
confirmed a demonstration had taken place.

"Yesterday afternoon in Lhasa city, there were monks from some temples
who, under the instigation and encouragement of a small group of
people, carried out an illegal activity that threatened social
stability," a foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said. "We will
continue to maintain social stability in accordance with the law and
strike hard against all illegal, criminal activities."

Chinese authorities keep a tight grip on information from Tibet, but
reports suggest the protest was the largest since 1989, when martial
law was introduced by the then regional governor, Hu Jintao.

According to overseas Tibetan groups, the demonstration started when
about 10 monks protested in front of the Jokhang, one of the holiest
sites in Tibetan Buddhism. A large crowd gathered to protect them from
armed police units, but they were detained.

Soon after, up to 300 monks from Drepung monastery, just outside
Lhasa, marched in support. They were stopped at heavily guarded
checkpoints, where dozens were detained. Hundreds of police then
surrounded the main monastaries.

Champa Phuntsok, the chairman of the Tibetan government, said the
monks were later released and the matter was resolved without
incident. "It's really nothing," he told the Associated Press.

But Tibetan supporters overseas said the unrest indicated growing
frustration at the lack of progress in talks between the Dalai Lama
and Beijing.

"I think the fact that these protests happened at all must be
disturbing to China, particularly after Burma. For the first time
since 1989, Chinese authorities face the possibility of unrest in Sera
and Drepung," said Kate Saunders of the US-based International
Campaign for Tibet. "Feelings are running particularly high because it
is Olympics year and the spotlight is on China. Tibetans are more
willing to take risks."

Tibetan groups in several other countries staged demonstrations on
Monday, the 49th anniversary of an uprising led by the Dalai Lama
against Chinese rule. In India, about 100 refugees in Dharamsala - the
home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama - vowed to defy a police order and
continue their march to Tibet. In Nepal, police used batons to break
up a march on the Chinese embassy.

Far bigger risks, however, are faced by protesters inside Tibet, where
imprisoned monks and nuns are often tortured. Those who have
experienced such ordeals said they were astonished that Tibetans were
once again willing to risk such treatment in pursuit of their ideals.

"It was shocking and surprising," said Ngawang Sangdrol, a nun who
spent years in Lhasa's notorious Drapchi prison before seeking refuge
in the UK. "I did not expect Tibetans to be so brave, because I know
what happens. I experienced severe treatment and torture for doing
something like this."
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