Monday, March 17, 2008

Tibetan Protests Spread To Chinese Provinces

Globe and Mail - Hundreds of Tibetan protesters with petrol bombs have destroyed a police station and police vehicles in a Tibetan region of Sichuan province, marking a dramatic new escalation of the violence that began in Lhasa last week, reports said last night.

At least seven Tibetan protesters in Sichuan were killed by paramilitary police, who opened fire on the crowd of pro-independence demonstrators yesterday, according to a Tibetan rights group. The report was unconfirmed and police denied it.

In another Tibetan region, in Gansu province, at least eight people were killed when police opened fire on 5,000 anti-China protesters yesterday, Radio Free Asia reported.

On Saturday, at least 1,000 Tibetans protested against Chinese rule in Gansu, destroying some government offices, and police fired tear gas to disperse them, according to Tibetan activist groups.

Lhasa, where the protests began last week, remains sealed off to the outside world. At least 10 people, and perhaps up to 80, were killed there on Friday when Tibetans rioted, clashing with police and torching Chinese shops.

Lhasa was reported to be relatively calm yesterday, with most residents ordered to stay inside their homes. Foreign tourists were evicted from the city or barred from entering for "safety reasons."

About 200 military vehicles, each with 40 to 60 soldiers, drove into Lhasa yesterday, while loudspeakers blared out messages telling the residents to "maintain order," according to a Hong Kong television station.

China announced that it might give a "reduced punishment" to any rioter who surrendered to the authorities by midnight tonight.

The Tibetan government-in-exile said at least 80 corpses were counted by family members and other sources after the Friday clashes, and some of the victims had been shot by police.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, said the Tibetan protesters were unhappy with the massive tidal wave of Chinese migrants who have overwhelmed the region. China is using force to impose a "rule of terror" on the Tibetans, he said.

"Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some cultural genocide is taking place," the Dalai Lama told reporters at his exile headquarters in Dharamsala, India. "The Tibetan nation is facing serious danger."

China's state-owned news agency, one of the government's main mouthpieces, lashed out at the Dalai Lama on the weekend, calling him a "master terror-maker" who had disturbed "the serene abode of the gods" in Lhasa.

The Chinese agency said the Dalai Lama had "turned the tranquil holy city of Lhasa into a land of terror."

It said the Dalai Lama was taught by a Nazi teacher when he was a child. "Now the blaze and blood in Lhasa has unclad the nature of the Dalai Lama."

Analysts said that China seemed to be adopting a strategy of branding the Dalai Lama as a "terrorist" because it had used similar tactics against other activists that wanted autonomy for ethnic regions such as the Muslim region of Xinjiang.

China is worried that the violence in the Tibetan regions could cast a shadow over the Beijing Olympics. The Olympics is supposed to be a showcase for China's policy of a "harmonious society."

The state news agency also released an account of the rioting on Friday, saying that the Tibetan rioters had brandished "iron rods, wooden sticks and long knives" and had randomly assaulted passersby, including women and children.

"Vandals carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of flammable liquids smashed windows, set fire to vehicles, shops and restaurants along their path," the account said.

Most Chinese media did not give details of the rioting, and websites often censored their coverage. Some comments did appear on a few websites yesterday, and most were nationalistic in their tone, blaming the Tibetans.

"All splittists should be killed, they are a Western conspiracy," wrote one person in a comment on a Chinese blog yesterday.

"Hooligan countries like America intend to take advantage of Tibetan separatists to put pressure on China," another person wrote.

A shopkeeper in Lhasa said his shop was attacked by the protesters. "Those Tibetans were crazy, trying to kill Han people as soon as they saw us," he wrote on the blog. "I support the armed crackdown by the government."

Some Chinese people, however, were sympathetic to the Tibetans. "I think the Tibetans fight for their own rights, instead of waiting for charity from the Communist Party, and I support their fight," one person wrote.