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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibet Protests Turn Violent, Shops Burn in Lhasa

March 15, 2008

Washington Post

BEIJING, March 14 -- A week of tense confrontations over Chinese rule
in Tibet erupted in violence Friday, as hundreds of protesters clashed
with police and set fire to shops in the center of Lhasa. Doctors
reported dozens of wounded streaming into area hospitals and one
witness said the downtown area was "in a state of siege."

The rare breakout of violence, the worst in 20 years in the capital
city of a remote mountainous region that is the heart of Tibetan
Buddhism, posed a challenge to the Chinese government as it prepares
to host the 2008 Olympic games in August. Seeking to make the games a
worldwide celebration of its swift economic progress over the past
three decades, the Chinese government has steadfastly attempted to
project an image of harmony and stability, even while tightening its
grip over the restive region.

"This spiraling unrest has triggered the scenario the Chinese prayed
would not happen," said Robbie Barnett, director of modern Tibetan
studies at Columbia University. "Now we're just watching the clock
tick until people get off the street or the Chinese open fire."

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, citing "first-hand reports from American
citizens in the city who report gunfire and other indications of
violence," issued an advisory warning tourists to avoid Lhasa. A
doctor said in a telephone interview that he received 41 wounded at
the Tibetan Autonomous Region People's Hospital in Lhasa. An official
at the People's Hospital of Lhasa said there were many wounded, but
gave no details.

A person who answered the phone at a Lhasa firehouse confirmed "many
places are on fire," but said there were "too many" to be specific.

The protests began Monday, when a few Buddhist monks and nuns
demonstrated in a public plaza to commemorate Tibet's 1959 failed
uprising against China. Hundreds of monks from a nearby monastery
marched to join them, but were stopped by police, who arrested between
50 and 60 of them, according to news reports. Hundreds more monks took
to the streets on Tuesday to demand the release of those arrested, and
were reportedly dispersed with tear gas. By Wednesday, police and
paramilitary officials had surrounded at least two monasteries and the
monks could not leave, witnesses said. By Thursday, the roads to the
three main monasteries in the mountains near Lhasa were blocked and
reports emerged that two monks had attempted suicide and others were
staging hunger strikes.

Early Friday morning, there were reports of armed personnel carriers
stationed on the road to the monasteries. Fu Jun, a spokesman for the
local Chinese government, said in a telephone interview that the
situation had "stabilized."

But at 11 a.m., monks from a small monastery in the heart of Lhasa
attempted to start a demonstration, the Times of London reported. As
police attempted to break it up, hundreds of Tibetans stepped in and
the fighting began.

As evening came, bars and restaurants in the city center closed down.
"We want to stay inside," said one bar manager in a telephone
interview. "It's safer."

The Chinese government had no immediate comment on the violence, but
had previously blamed the violence on the Dalai Lama, Tibetan
Buddhist's spiritual leader, who fled to exile in India after the 1959
uprising. "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," Chinese foreign ministry
spokesman Qin Gang told reporters on Thursday.

Sonam Dagpo, secretary of information and international relations for
the Dalai Lama's organization in Dharamshala, said that was not the
case. "The Dalai Lama has always advised events to be peaceful," he
said in an interview on Friday morning. "His holiness did not ask
anyone to protest."

Meanwhile, in India, a group of 100 Tibetan exiles who had pledged to
march back to Tibet to call attention to their demands for religious
freedom and Tibetan independence from China, were sentenced to 14 days
in detention by a local magistrate after being stopped by police on
Thursday near Dehra. They had walked about two hours from their
starting point in Dharamshala.

"We are totally focused and committed right now to the march and our
effort right now is to secure the release of the marchers," said
Tsewang Rinzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, in a
telephone interview. "We know what is going on. We can see that India
appears to be cozying up to China at all costs, and that is a
disappointment."
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