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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibet Monks Disrupt Tour by Journalists

March 28, 2008

By CHARLES HUTZLER

LHASA, China March 27, 2008 (AP) — A group of monks shouting there was
no religious freedom disrupted a carefully orchestrated visit for
foreign reporters to Tibet's capital Thursday, an embarrassment for
China as it tried to show Lhasa was calm following deadly
anti-government riots.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman later insisted that Tibetans had full
rights and warned Europe not to interfere. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama,
the region's exiled spiritual leader, said he was in touch with
"friends" about pursuing a dialogue with China, adding that Chinese
authorities "must accept reality."

Officials arranged the trip for the reporters to showcase that Lhasa was
at peace after the mid-March violence and a subsequent government
crackdown shattered China's plans for a smooth run-up to the Beijing
Olympics.

The outburst by a group of 30 monks in red robes came as the
journalists, including an Associated Press reporter, were being shown
around the Jokhang Temple — one of Tibet's holiest shrines — by
government handlers in Lhasa.

"Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!" yelled one young Buddhist monk,
who started to cry.

They also said the Dalai Lama had nothing to do with the riots by
Tibetans in which buildings were torched and looted and ethnic Han
Chinese were attacked. The government has said the March 14 riots were
masterminded by "the Dalai clique," Beijing's term for the Dalai Lama
and his supporters.

Government handlers shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to
pull them away during the protest.

"They want us to crush the Dalai Lama and that is not right," one monk
said during the 15-minute outburst.

"This had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama," said another. The Chinese
government says 22 people died, while Tibetan exiles say the violence
plus the harsh crackdown afterward have left nearly 140 people dead.

The rioting and four days of protests that preceded it were the worst
anti-Chinese demonstrations in Lhasa in nearly two decades and they
sparked protests in Tibetan areas across a vast portion of western
China. The Chinese government has maintained its response was measured
and comparable to what any responsible government would do when faced
with civil unrest.

The outburst by the monks came amid a morning of stage-managed events.
Reporters already had been taken to a Tibet medical clinic that had been
attacked nearby the Jokhang, and shown a clothing store where five girls
had been trapped and burned to death.

The monks, who first spoke Tibetan and then switched to Mandarin so the
reporters could understand them, said they knew they would probably be
arrested for their actions but were willing to accept that.

They had rushed over to stop the reporters from being taken into an
inner sanctum of the temple, saying they were upset that a government
administrator was telling the reporters that Tibet had been part of
China for centuries.

They said troops who had been guarding the temple since March 14 were
removed the night before the visit by the reporters. One monk said they
were upset by what he said were some monks planted in the monastery to
talk to the journalists, calling them "not true believers but ...
Communist Party members."

"They are all officials, they (the government) arranged for them to come
in. And we aren't allowed to go out because they say we could destroy
things but we never did anything," another monk said.

The protesting monks appeared to go back to their living quarters. There
was no way of knowing immediately what happened to them.

China rarely lets foreign reporters into Tibet under normal
circumstances, so the media tour was meant to underscore the communist
leadership's determination to contain any damage ahead of the Beijing
Olympics in August that was supposed to celebrate China as a modern,
rising power.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday on the action by the
monks, but did not say what the monks yelled out.

Later, the area around Jokhang was sealed off by People's Armed Police
wearing helmets and carrying shields. They refused to say why they were
there. The only people allowed to enter the area were those who live in
the narrow lanes around the temple.

Most of the shops near the temple were also closed.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said at a news conference Thursday
that various ethnic groups in Tibet are "safeguarding the national unity
and oppose separatist activities."

Qin also warned Europe not to interfere with the situation in Tibet
ahead of a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the 27-member
European Union. The unrest in Tibet is China's internal affairs, Qin
said. Beijing hopes European countries will not send "erroneous
messages" to the Dalai Lama, Qin said.

"I believe there are criminals, especially violent criminals, in the
European countries. ... I hope that Europe will not adopt a double
standard in this regard," Qin said.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama said he was in touch with "friends" to get a
dialogue going with Chinese officials.

"I think this is time the Chinese government and Chinese officials, I
think, must accept the reality. I think that's important. Now in any
case we are (in the) 21st century, pretending or lies cannot work," he
said, speaking in New Delhi.

Reporters in Tibet who tried to break away from the group were subject
to being followed on foot and by car. Only furtive conversations with
Tibetans were possible.

"Ethnic unity? This war is an ethnic conflict," said one middle-aged
Tibetan in a shop selling yak butter in the Old City of Lhasa.

The reporters were taken to places that had been well publicized on
state television as places the rioters had attacked. That included the
Lhasa No. 2 Middle School near Ramoche, where protesters had hurled
burning objects that set fire to one two-story building. Nobody was hurt
at the school.

The principal, Deji Zhuoge, said he did not know why the school was
attacked. He said 85 percent of the schools 620 students were Tibetan.

But the reporters were kept away from any potential hotspots, including
the Ramoche monastery. Down a lane north of the Jokhang, Ramoche is
where the violence started on March 14.

The narrow lanes leading to it were sealed off by riot police in dark
blue uniforms.

The government handlers also told the reporters they would not be able
to see Drepung and Sera monasteries, where initial protests were
launched March 10.

Reporters were shown a detention center that housed some of the rioters
and an assistance center for those who lost homes or businesses in the
violence.

At the assistance center, a man from who moved to Lhasa from central
China to open a store last year said he and his wife were forced to jump
from the second floor when a crowd set his small shop on fire during the
rioting.

"We never thought this kind of thing would happen and leave us with
nothing," Li Kunjian said.

Associated Press writers Henry Sanderson in Beijing and Muneeza Naqvi in
New Delhi contributed to this report.
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