Monks' Protest Rejects Chinese Rule in Tibet

Tibetan monks stage their biggest demonstrations in nearly two decades against Chinese rule. China's state-run news agency says hundreds of protesters joined the Buddhist monks in the capital, Lhasa. Several shops were burned.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Tibetan Monks are staging their biggest protest in nearly two decades against Chinese rule. Hundreds of demonstrators joined the Buddhist monks in the capital, Lhasa. Chinese state news agency reports that shops and cars were set on fire. It's extremely difficult to get independent verification of events in Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area.

NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Khun has been monitoring the situation and he joins us now. And Anthony, what do you know about today's protest?

ANTHONY KHUN: Well, things today definitely seem to take a turn for the more violent after several days of more peaceful demonstrations. There have been reports which we have not been able to confirm so far that police cars were set on fire, that army tanks were mobilized near the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former residence.

And also, we've heard that the three main Buddhist monasteries on the fringes of Lhasa have been blockaded by security forces. And it was Buddhist monks or lamas from these monasteries - Ganden, Drepung and Sera - that started the protests on Monday. They were commemorating a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. After which, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India, and they were also demanding the freeing of fellow lamas who had been taken into custody by security forces.

MONTAGNE: So, blocking those monasteries is to keep the monks in?

KHUN: That's correct. They have - the monks have, in past, taken a lead role in many protests against Chinese rule. And apparently, residents in the streets of Lhasa heard them shouting for pro-independence slogans and things like that.

MONTAGNE: So, police presence there is pretty heavy.

KHUN: That's what we understand. We understand though that also Beijing has not used a lot of lethal force yet. That they will probably be using more low-key tactics, like searching for monks house-to-house. They will be telling Tibetans to stay off the streets and avoid helping the monks. But we have not seen massive mobilization of the army. But now that these thing seems to be escalating, it's hard to say how they're going to react.

MONTAGNE: And this is the latest in a week of protest. And there have been protests outside Tibet as well.

KHUN: Yes, there have been protests worldwide to commemorate that 1959 uprising in front of consulates all over the world. Tibetans and their supporters have gathered to protest, particularly the big exile community of Tibetans in Dharamsala, India sent a force of 100 marchers towards the Tibetan border. But China was able to prevail upon the Indians to stop these people and to tame them. And so, China has put quite a bit of pressure on its neighbors, including Nepal to bar people from engaging in what they consider anti-China activities.

MONTAGNE: Would you say that this is the most serious challenge to Chinese rule in Tibet in many years?

KHUN: Well, there's been a lot of low-level unrest in Tibet in recent years, including in Eastern Tibet last summer. But probably we haven't seen such massive unrest since 1989 when there were riots in Lhasa. But there has been a lot of pressure building, surely activists are trying to take advantage of the fact that media attention is turned on China for the Olympics. There's concern about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader who's now aging at age 72. And there's frustration at pressure tactics by Chinese authority, such as trying to get monks to denounce the Dalai Lama.

MONTAGNE: Anthony, thanks for joining us. NPR's Anthony Khun in Beijing.

On protest against Chinese rule in Tibet, demonstrators set fire to shops and vehicles in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, today.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Tibetans Burn Chinese Shops in Major Protest

Chinese army tanks were on the streets in the Tibetan capital Lhasa after angry protestors set fire to Chinese shops following a week of demonstrations that constituted the region's boldest challenge to Beijing's authority in nearly two decades.

A witness contacted by NPR described sporadic gunfire and violence directed against ethnic Chinese throughout Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, a formerly independent territory that was forcibly occupied by Chinese troops in 1951.

The witness said Tibetans were throwing stones at Chinese passers-by; the U.S. embassy in Beijing said American citizens in Lhasa have reported gunfire.

There were reports of at least two people killed in clashes between protestors and security forces, but there were no details or confirmation.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spirtual leader in exile, called on Beijing to refrain from using force against the protestors and to "address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people." Beijing responded by accusing the Dalai Lama, who has lived in neighboring India since 1959, of "masterminding" the protests, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The violence comes as the upcoming Beijing Olympics have placed renewed attention on China's control of Tibet. This week has brought global marches, organized to mark the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Communist rule that spilled into Tibet itself.

International rights groups said three major monasteries in and around Lhasa have been sealed off by the authorities in response to the demonstrations and violence.

One witness told The Associated Press that after a demonstration by hundreds of Buddhist monks on Friday, several monks were arrested and tanks were patrolling the square near the city's famous Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama's residence.

The violence was the latest in a series of protests inside and outside Tibet that have put an unwelcome spotlight on China's policies in Tibet in the lead-up to this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Tibetan exiles have also held high-profile protests in northern India.

Beijing has ruled over Tibet with a heavy hand since it first occupied the Himalayan region, enforcing strict controls on religious institutions. China's government also vilifies the Dalai Lama, who has continued to call for Tibetan independence.

from NPR and wire reports.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: