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Tibetans clash with police in western China

February 25, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters), Feb 24 - A dispute over the price of balloons in an
ethnically Tibetan town in western China sparked a clash between
thousands of residents and police, a source with knowledge of the
incident said on Sunday.

Several thousand Tibetans in Tongren, Qinghai province, threw stones
and attacked police for over an hour during Lunar New Year
celebrations on Thursday night, the source, who declined to be named,
told Reuters.

The clash happened after a group of Tibetan youths were involved in a
scuffle with a Muslim trader of the Hui ethnic group, the source said.

"Members of the crowd ... tried to intervene, and then beat the
policemen, who ran away. Rumours that the police had beat up some
local youths spread through the crowd, and many other police were
beaten or chased away, leading to large-scale unrest," the source
said.

A contingent of People's Armed Police, or paramilitary force, later
arrived to restore order, firing tear gas and detaining about 100
people.

Up to 20 of the police, who were all Tibetans, were taken to hospital,
and two police cars were overturned during the rioting, the source
said.

Authorities released 90 of the detained, and the remaining 10 were
freed the following morning, after protesters gathered outside
government offices and monks at local monasteries threatened to
boycott new year rituals and dance ceremonies scheduled for later that
day.

"This suggests the local government also decided the incidents were a
reaction to excessive force, not a protest about China's role in
Tibet," the source said.

A notice from Tongren county authorities called for calm and said
police were holding "people whose mistakes are considered heavy for
further investigation".

"The county government asks all nationalities ... voluntarily to
protect the security of the county," the statement said.

Calls placed to Tongren government offices seeking comment went unanswered.

Relations between mainly Buddhist Tibetans and the Hui, a Muslim
minority numbering about 10 million in China, have long been tense.

Ethnic tensions between Chinese minorities and the dominant Han, who
account for about 90 percent of China's 1.3 billion people, regularly
spill over into violence, particularly in the country's unsettled
western regions.

In November, an altercation between a Han Chinese shopowner and
Tibetan monks in rural Tibet's Naqu district led to hundreds of
Tibetan herdsmen smashing shops owned by Han Chinese.
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