BEIJING, SEPT. 29 -- In an unusual display of anti-Chinese sentiment, Tibetan monks seeking independence demonstrated in Lhasa Sunday and clashed with police, the official New China News Agency reported today.
Carrying a flag of "the snow mountains and lions," a religious icon of the Tibetans, 21 Tibetan priests and five other persons took to the streets in the Tibetan capital, shouting "Tibet wants independence" and other slogans, the news agency said. They reportedly struck police who tried to intervene and made "agitating speeches" in the center of the city outside the Johkang temple, the most cherished Buddhist temple in Tibet, and the regional government building. The protest was over in less than an hour, the news agency said.
Anti-Chinese demonstrations are rarely reported in the official press. Today's news agency report was also extraordinary for its detail and swift release, perhaps reflecting Beijing's sensitivity about Tibet.
China annexed the strategic region in central Asia more than three decades ago, but relations between the 1.7 million Tibetans and an estimated 400,000 Chinese civilians and troops stationed there are strained.
The issue of Tibet is particularly sensitive now because of a U.S. House of Representatives amendment condemning human rights violations in Tibet and the destruction of thousands of monasteries there. Moreover, the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, has just completed a private visit to the United States.
The demonstration came only a few days after the reported executions of at least two Tibetans in Tibet, one based on a murder charge, according to an official source. Tibetan exiles said those executed were fighting for independence, and were not murderers. It was not clear whether the protest was linked to the executions.
A Tibetan vice chairman of the National People's Congress, China's legislature, was quoted by the official news agency as saying the demonstrators were not supported by the public and would be dealt with according to the law. But observers here said that given the Chinese controls over the population in Tibet, a demonstration by 26 persons was significant and could reflect much broader unrest.
A foreign tourist reached by telphone tonight said he traveled throughout the city today by pedicab but saw no unusual security or police activity. The city was described as calm.
Meanwhile, Reuter reported from New Delhi today that 200 Tibetan exiles broke through a police cordon in the Indian capital to protest what the demonstrators described as executions of three Tibetans in Tibet on Sept. 24 and 25. A spokesman for the demonstrators said the three were dissidents fighting for independence.
A government official in Lhasa said two Tibetans had been executed, Reuter reported. Both were criminals, and one of them had been convicted for murder, he said.
The Tibetan exiles in New Delhi said they planned to send a letter to China's premier, Zhao Ziyang, urging him to accept a five-point plan proposed by the Dalai Lama calling for a withdrawal of Chinese troops from Tibet.
More than 100,000 Tibetans have fled to India since 1959, when Chinese troops suppressed an uprising. The Chinese first sent troops into Tibet in 1951.
Beijing, meanwhile, continued to issue an unprecedented barrage of statements, propaganda, and reports defending its involvement in Tibet.
Chinese officials have accused Congress of "wantonly interfering" in Beijing's internal affairs. The Chinese Embassy in Washington last week expressed "grave concern" over the Dalai Lama's visit. Yesterday, the Foreign Ministry issued a lengthy statement expressing "regret and strong dissatisfaction over the U.S. government's failure to prevent the Dalai Lama's political activities" during his U.S. visit. The Chinese maintain that Tibet is an inalienable part of China.
The official news agency has issued a number of reports to demonstrate that China is making great efforts to develop the primitive economy of Tibet. In one rare dispatch, a senior Chinese court official denied an allegation that China has 80 prisons with thousands of prisoners. He did acknowledge, however, that China has imprisoned nearly 30 Tibetans on charges of "counterrevolution."
The dispatch was apparently issued to rebut an article published in The Washington Post's editorial section in March in which the writer, John Avedon, said China keeps roughly 20,000 Tibetans in 84 prisons.
"Tibet has one prison and two labor camps with 974 inmates in total," said the court official.