March 16, 2008 / 12:03 AM / 12 years ago

Tibetan riots spread, security lockdown in Lhasa

BEIJING (Reuters) - Rioting erupted in a province neighboring Tibet on Sunday, two days after ugly street protests by Tibetans against Chinese rule in Lhasa that the contested region’s government-in-exile said had killed 80 people.

A Tibetan in exile cries as she shouts slogans during a sit-in protest in New Delhi March 15, 2008. Independence protesters burned shops and cars in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Friday in the fiercest unrest in the region for two decades. Tibetan refugees continued protesting across the world to mark the 49th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule and press their demand for independence ahead of the Beijing Olympics. REUTERS/Tanushree Punwan

A police officer — speaking even as the main government building in Aba county, Sichuan province, came under siege — told Reuters that about 200 Tibetan protesters had hurled petrol bombs and burnt down a police station.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in an e-mail that thousands of monks of the nearby Amdo Ngaba Kirti monastery in Sichuan had raised the banned Tibetan flag and shouted pro-independence slogans after prayers on Sunday morning.

Chinese security forces stormed the monastery, fired tear gas and prevented the monks from taking to the streets, it said.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

Earlier, troops locked down Lhasa — a remote city high in the Himalayas barred to foreign journalists without permission and now sealed off to tourists too — to prevent a repeat of last week’s riots, the most serious in nearly two decades.

The Dalai Lama said that there should be an investigation into whether cultural genocide, intentionally or not, was taking place in Tibet, and said China was relying on force to achieve peace.

The convulsion of Tibetan anger at the Chinese presence in the region came after days of peaceful protests by monks and was a sharp blow to Beijing’s preparations for the Olympic Games in August, when China wants to showcase prosperity and unity.

Tibet is one of several potential flashpoints for the ruling Communist party at a time of heightened attention on China.

The government is concerned about the effect of inflation and wealth gaps on social stability after years of breakneck economic growth, and this month it said it had foiled two terrorist plots hatched by the largely Muslim Uighur minority in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, including an attempt to disrupt the Olympics.

The official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday that many shops had reopened and cars were back on the streets as calm returned to the city.

Residents contacted by telephone earlier said they were too scared to leave their homes because of the security clampdown.

“We don’t dare go out, not for anything. There’s too much trouble,” said one businesswoman from the heart of the city.

Official media said a “people’s war” of security and propaganda had been launched against support for the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, suggesting Beijing will not heed calls from around the globe for a lenient response.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced concern in a statement on Saturday that violence appeared to be continuing, and she urged Beijing to “release monks and others who have been detained solely for the peaceful expression of their views.”

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said China should allow an independent U.N. investigation into last week’s events.

And India called for dialogue and non-violent means. Home to the 72-year-old Dalai Lama, who fled over the Himalayas into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising that year, India treads carefully with its giant neighbor to expand diplomatic and trade ties after decades of rivalry, including a brief war in 1962.

80 DEAD, OR 10?

A woman in contact with a businessman in Lhasa said the streets were teeming with armed police in riot gear on Sunday after word of renewed clashes overnight, when Hui Muslim Chinese attacked Tibetans in revenge for wrecked homes and property.

“The Tibetans were starting to fight back but then the troops stepped in and restored order,” she said.

The report of fresh fighting could not be verified.

A 19-year-old tourist from the United States, Chelsea Hockett, who arrived on a flight from Lhasa, told Reuters in the city of Chengdu there had been “a lot of shooting.”

“No one can leave the hotels. It was really bad,” she said.

The self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, northern India, said 80 people had died in the clashes between the authorities and protesters, and 72 were hurt.

“Confirmed, regarding number of bodies, is 80,” spokesman Thubten Samphel told reporters from a Dharamsala temple. Another official, Tenzin Taklha, said most would have been Tibetans.

It was not clear if anyone had been shot dead. Xinhua said only that 10 “innocent civilians” had died, mostly in fires lit by rioters, and 12 policemen had been seriously injured.

Monks first took to the streets of Tibet last Monday to mark the 49th anniversary of the 1949 uprising, and protests soon spread to adjoining regions inhabited by pockets of Tibetans.

In Lhasa on Friday, protesters, some in monks’ robes and some yelling independence slogans, torched vehicles, attacked banks and offices and used stones and knives against police.

Security officials, speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of China’s annual session of parliament in Beijing, defended the Tibet crackdown and said there was no call for alarm.

“Having some problems crop up is nothing to make a big deal out of. We just need to deal with them in an appropriate manner,” said senior army General Zhang Wentai. “It won’t affect the Olympics, or the country’s overall security.”

Additional reporting by Jason Subler and Lindsay Beck in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Chengdu and by Jonathan Allen in Dharamsala

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