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Tibetan students protest in China's Gansu region

March 23, 2010

First unrest during highly sensitive time

By EMMA GRAHAM-HARRISON, Reuters
March 22, 2010

Tibetan high school students protested in the streets of at least two towns
in western China this week to mark the anniversary of an uprising against
Chinese rule, and some have been detained, residents said yesterday.

The demonstrations appear to be the first unrest in tightly controlled
Tibetan areas at a highly sensitive time. March is the anniversary of both
spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's flight into exile decades ago, and an
uprising across the areas in 2008.

Beijing has stepped up its security presence and promised to pour extra cash
into development to calm the restive and strategically vital border region.

But critics say if China does not address Tibetan concerns about the loss of
their culture and heritage, stability will remain elusive.

At least 20 teenagers were taken into custody by police in the remote
western town of Hezuo on Wednesday, shortly after a larger group began a
protest, a hotel clerk there said. Hezuo is in a Tibetan corner of Gansu
province.

She declined to give her name or comment on the motive for the protest,
saying "only themselves know."

On March 14, dozens of teenagers also took to the streets of Machu, also in
Gansu, chanting pro-Tibetan slogans, said a supermarket manager who himself
is Han Chinese. He was not clear if anyone was arrested.

The town is now crawling with military police and feels safe and calm, said
the manager, who declined to give his name because ethnic tensions in
Tibetan areas are politically sensitive, and discussing them with foreign
journalists risks punishment.

A string of checkpoints have also been set up along the road to Langmu
temple, about 70 kilometres away, since Sunday, a hotel employee near the
monastery said, but added that he did not know the details of what happened
in Machu.

The Gansu foreign affairs office and the Gansu provincial information office
said they had not heard of any protests. Police in Machu and Hezuo did not
answer calls.

Historically Tibetan Machu, surrounded by vast grasslands, is in one of the
areas that was worst hit by famines and purges during the rule of Mao
Zedong, and foreigners have only been allowed to visit since 1999.

Rioting flared in the town on March 16, 2008, the weekend after violence in
Tibet's capital, Lhasa.

Protests there against Chinese rule, led by Buddhist monks, gave way to
torrid violence, with rioters torching shops and turning on residents
including Han Chinese and Hui Muslims. Many Tibetans see Hans as intruders
threatening their culture.
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