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Tibet burns as protests defy police

March 15, 2008

Beijing, March 15 (Reuters) AT LEAST a dozen people were injured and
shops and cars set alight during violent protests in Tibet's capital
of Lhasa.

Hundreds of people had again taken to Lhasa's streets in defiance of
Chinese authorities and despite a heavy police presence and reports of
a lockdown of monasteries, sources said.

The US embassy said it had received reports of gunfire in Lhasa and
advised its citizens to stay indoors.

"The police are everywhere," said one cafe owner in Lhasa. "There are
big problems."

Chinese rule in remote, Buddhist Tibet has become a focus for critics
in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, and marches around the world
this week to mark the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against
communist rule have spilled into Tibet itself.

A report from China's Xinhua news agency quoted witnesses saying that
a number of shops were burnt and nearby businesses closed.

Yesterday 300 to 400 residents and monks demonstrated in Lhasa, a
source quoted a witness as saying, capping a week of daily protests
led by the Buddhist clergy, an echo of the anti-government protests
that rocked neighbouring Burma last year.

"Some are angry and some are scared. The security forces are checking
houses to see if any monks are hiding," said the source, who is in
touch with Tibetan residents.

Hundreds of monks from the Labrang monastery in the north-western
Chinese province of Gansu led a march through the town of Xiahe, the
Free Tibet Campaign said, citing sources in Dharamsala, the Indian
home to Tibet's government-in-exile.

More than 10 monks had been arrested and tanks were patrolling the
square near Lhasa's Potala Palace, the person said, referring to the
former winter residence of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
"It's very chaotic … all the police have come out," said one Lhasa
resident. "The monks and nuns have been marching and protesting," the
woman said, adding residents were afraid to go out.

"People have been burning cars and motorbikes and buses. There is
smoke everywhere and they have been throwing rocks and breaking
windows. We're scared," another resident said.

An American witness in Lhasa told BBC World he saw Chinese troops
kicking and beating Tibetan protesters at the temple. He said he saw
troop carriers arriving with soldiers in camouflage gear carrying
guns.

A businesswoman surnamed Xia said: "It's martial law … There are
People's Armed Police out, and they've been fighting the lamas."

At least a dozen people were injured and taken to hospital following
the protests, a nurse at one hospital said. Another nurse from the
People's Hospital said they could not confirm any details of injuries,
saying they had been ordered by the Government not to say anything.

China's State Council Information Office declined to comment,
referring only to earlier remarks by a Foreign Ministry spokesman who
said the protesters were "seeking to spark social turmoil". This
week's shows of defiance are precisely what the Chinese Government has
been trying to avoid as it seeks to secure a stable environment for
the Olympics, which open on August 8.

The region has been periodically restive since Chinese troops invaded
in 1950. Nine years later the Dalai Lama staged a failed uprising
against Chinese rule and fled into exile in India.

China imposed martial law in Tibet in 1989 to quell anti-Chinese demonstrations.

On Monday 500 monks from the Drepung monastery marched in Lhasa,
followed by action from monks at the Lhasa-area Sera and Ganden
monasteries. Security personnel fired tear gas on at least one
demonstration, reports said.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said authorities
had sealed off all three monasteries.

"There is an intensified atmosphere of fear and tension in Tibet's
capital," the group said.

The US Government-funded Radio Free Asia said monks from Sera were on
a hunger strike, demanding the withdrawal of Chinese paramilitary
forces from the monastery compound and the release of monks detained
earlier this week. Two monks from Drepung were in critical condition
after attempting suicide by slitting their wrists, the radio station
said.

The number of Tibetans detained could not be confirmed, but
independence support groups said they expected government reprisals.

Nepal says it will block access to Mount Everest in early May to
prevent pro-Tibetan protests while China takes the Olympic torch to
the roof of the world.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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