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Government leader in Tibet confirms protests by monks in Lhasa

March 13, 2008

BEIJING, March 11 (AP): The head of China's regional government in
Tibet confirmed Tuesday that about 300 Tibetan monks staged a protest
march this week in the capital of Lhasa but said authorities diffused
the incident without arrests.

The march Monday was one of the boldest public challenges to China's
rule in nearly two decades, but Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the
Tibetan government, said it was resolved without incident.

The monks from Drepung monastery outside Lhasa set off on their march
to the city on the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against
Beijing rule in 1959.

Phunstok also confirmed a smaller protest at which nine monks shouted
slogans near a main temple. The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia
and an overseas Tibetan Web site, phayul.com, had earlier reported the
demonstrations.

Phunstok said an unspecified number of marchers were brought in for
questioning and were released shortly after.

"It's really nothing," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines
of National People's Congress, China's annual legislative session.

There was no way of independently confirming Phunstok's comments.

Drepung was sealed off Tuesday and increased numbers of armed police
guarded temples in and around Lhasa, according to Radio Free Asia and
phayul.com Web site, which is run by Tibetan exiles.

Up to 71 people, mostly monks, were detained following the protests, they said.

Always edgy about protests in frequently restive Tibet, China is
particularly nervous in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in August.
Tibetan exiles and their supporters have tried to draw the Olympic
spotlight to China's often harsh 57-year rule over the Himalayan
region.

Meanwhile, several hundred Tibetan exiles tried to march to Tibet from
Dharmsala, India, where their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has
presided over a government-in-exile since the abortive 1959 uprising.

The activists started their march Monday, but police told them they
were banned from leaving the area. However, they resumed their march
on Tuesday.

Monday's Lhasa protests are believed to be the largest demonstrations
in the city since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence
demonstrations in 1989. Since then, China has pumped investment into
the region, vilified the Dalai Lama and tried to weed out his
supporters among the influential Buddhist clergy _ moves that have
alienated some Tibetans.
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