At Least 8 Reported Dead as Tibetans, Police Clash in W. China

Tenzin Topden, a Tibetan flag draped over his shoulders, listens to speakers during a protest in Lafayette Square.
Tenzin Topden, a Tibetan flag draped over his shoulders, listens to speakers during a protest in Lafayette Square. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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Area populated by Tibetans
By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 5, 2008

BEIJING, April 4 -- Hundreds of Tibetan monks and laypeople clashed with Chinese police Thursday night in a small mountain town in western China after government officials attempted to force monks to denounce their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and arrested two monks who were found with his picture, according to reports from Tibetan activist groups.

Nearly 800 people marched on government offices in Tonkhor, in Sichuan province's Garze county, but were stopped by police who fired into the crowd, killing at least eight people, the reports said. The official New China News Agency called the incident a "riot" and said "police were forced to fire warning shots to put down the violence." It did not report any deaths but said one official was injured in the confrontation.

The new violence comes after China flooded the Tibetan plateau with thousands of armed police in the past three weeks to put down growing protests against Chinese rule and to arrest those involved. The protests, which the Chinese say were instigated by the Dalai Lama, began in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on March 10. They erupted into rioting there on March 14 in which at least 22 people were killed.

Another bloody clash between police and Tibetans took place March 16 in the Sichuan county of Aba, where activists say at least eight people were killed. Chinese officials have not confirmed any deaths in Aba and insist that police there acted with restraint in the face of an angry mob.

"The latest protests have been sparked by previous reports of brutality by Chinese authorities in Tibet and Tibetan areas," said Matt Whitticase of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, who heard similar accounts of Thursday's incident from two independent sources. The current crackdown, he said, "will only spark further protests and fuel the deep resentments felt by Tibetans toward Chinese authorities and their repressive rule."

According to Whitticase and two other reports from groups outside Tibet, Chinese officials went to the Tonkhor monastery Wednesday to inform the senior monk of the start of a "patriotic education" campaign, which would require the monks to denounce the Dalai Lama and condemn the recent anti-government protests. The monk, Lobsang Jamyang, refused to allow the officials into the monastery and told the other monks he would refuse to denounce the Dalai Lama.

The next day, more than 1,000 armed police surrounded and searched the monastery, according to the Free Tibet Campaign. They confiscated several cellphones and destroyed pictures of the Dalai Lama, which they had found hidden in two monks' rooms.

Two monks, ages 74 and 26, were arrested when they attempted to stop police from destroying the photos, according to the exile radio network Voice of Tibet.

Incensed by the detentions, about 400 laypeople joined the monastery's 370 monks in a protest demanding the two be released. Police said they would release the two monks by 8 p.m., but then reneged. The protesters began shouting, "We want freedom!" and attempted to march to the town's government offices, but were blocked by armed police. As the confrontation escalated, police opened fire, according to the reports.

The Voice of Tibet reported the names of six of the dead. Radio Free Asia reported that as many as 15 had been killed. Both reported dozens wounded and many others missing. Armed police have surrounded the monastery, and telephone communication has been cut off.

None of the reports could be independently verified. Calls to the local government offices were not answered. The local police duty officer declined to answer questions.

Researcher Liu Liu contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company