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Military, Police at Tibetan Monasteries

March 14, 2008

BEIJING, Mar 15, (AP) — Soldiers and police have been deployed around
two Buddhist monasteries in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa where monks
launched protests against Chinese rule earlier this week, witnesses
and residents said Thursday.

A man who answered the phone at the Sera monastery said monks have
been confined inside its walls, shut off from outside contact, and are
relying on dwindling food supplies.

The monastery was "surrounded by many people," said the man, who
refused to identify himself or say whether he was a monk.

Another Lhasa resident, who also refused to be identified, said the
Drepung monastery was encircled by "three layers" of army personnel
while the Sera monastery had been surrounded by more than 2,000
police.

The resident said more than 10 trucks filled with soldiers, nearly a
dozen police cars and also ambulances were seen heading to the area.

A Foreign Ministry official in Beijing had no immediate comment late
Thursday on the reported police and military presence.

It is extremely difficult to get independent verification of events in
Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area. Foreigners
need special travel permits, and journalists are rarely granted access
except under highly controlled circumstances.

Large-scale demonstrations by the Buddhist monks began Monday, as they
staged a bold, public challenge to China's rule using the anniversary
of a failed Tibetan uprising against Beijing rule in 1959.

Demonstrations also spilled over into traditionally Tibetan areas in
the neighboring province of Qinghai. Monks at two other monasteries —
the Lutsang monastery and Ditsa monastery — also held small protests
but were not detained by police, according to U.S. government-funded
Radio Free Asia.

An official in the Bureau of Religious Affairs in Guinan County, where
Lutsang is located, confirmed that protests had taken place at the
monastery.

"For the past few days, we have been on high alert for protests and
other formal gatherings by monks as this has been a widespread
occurrence," said the official, who refused to give his name.

Earlier Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang confirmed that
protests had taken place, but said the situation had "stabilized." Qin
accused exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of inciting
separatism, though he provided no evidence.

"In recent days, a few monks in Lhasa city have made some
disturbances," Qin said at a regular news briefing.

"This is a political scheme by the Dalai group, attempting to separate
China and try to make some unrest in the normal harmonious, peaceful
life of Tibetan people," he said.

Qin also said China's determination to "safeguard national
unification" is firm, so further protests "will not take place."

In the Lhasa protests, the involvement of monks from Sera and Drepung
is seen as particularly provocative. The monasteries traditionally
trained Buddhist scholars who led theocratic Tibet before China
supplanted the Dalai Lama and the rest of the theocracy.

After two demonstrations Monday — one in which 300 or more monks from
Drepung marched on the streets of the capital, the other in which a
smaller groups of monks from Sera protested — police arrested an
unknown number of protesters, according to reports and witnesses.

On Tuesday, police used tear gas to disperse an estimated 500 to 600
monks from the nearby Sera monastery who were marching to demand the
release of imprisoned fellow monks, Radio Free Asia reported.
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