Anti-China Protest Becomes Violent in Tibet

Tibet's capital of Lhasa was in chaos on Friday after ethnic Tibetans erupted in violent protest against Chinese rule. Protesters burned cars and buses, threw rocks at store windows and cried out for independence from China.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

And I'm Anthony Brooks. In Tibet today, Buddhist monks took to the streets to protest Chinese rule. In the capital city of Lhasa, protesters burned cars and buses, threw rocks at store windows and cried out for independence from China. NPR's Louisa Lim joins us now from Shanghai. And Louisa, what more can you tell us about what's happening in Lhasa?

LOUISA LIM: Well, it's extremely difficult to know exactly what's going on there. We're really only getting piecemeal reports from very different sources, and people have only seen what's happening in one specific part of the city or another. So it's difficult to put together a whole picture, but we have heard reports of gunshots.

The American embassy said American citizens in Lhasa have reported hearing gunfire, and a group run by Tibetan exiles in India say the gunshots were fired to disperse protesting crowds. And there have been some reports on Radio Free Asia that two people were killed, but so far that is unconfirmed. However, it does sound as if there's an extremely chaotic situation there.

I spoke to a foreign journalist who is in Lhasa at the moment who said what he was seeing was basically ethnic violence on a citywide scale. He was talking about Tibetans setting alight Chinese shops, looting from them, throwing stones at Chinese passers-by, and in the part of town that he was in, he said he saw no police presence, and that that part of town seemed to be in Tibetan hands.

BROOKS: Louisa, this comes after some five days of demonstrations, which I gather were relatively peaceful up until today. How unusual is this kind of demonstration?

LIM: It's very unusual. In fact, the protests started on Monday when about 300 monks marched through the street. It was a very sensitive date in the Tibetan calendar. It's the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

And just to give you an idea of how big a deal that was, that protest on Monday was possibly the biggest protest in Tibet that we know of in almost two decades, in 19 years, and then all this week we've seen demonstrations both in Lhasa and spreading throughout other Tibetan areas, and in many cases these are demonstrations spearheaded by monks who are unhappy about the Chinese repression of their religious freedom.

BROOKS: Louisa, China of course is preparing for the Olympics this summer, very concerned about how it is viewed around the world. Won't this be something of an embarrassment for Beijing?

LIM: Absolutely. I mean, this is really Beijing's nightmare scenario. They'd hoped to keep the Himalayan region under control. They've exerted a very tight grip on Tibet, and now the world's eyes are turned to Tibet, and at the same time there were Tibetan exiles planning a march to Tibet which are bringing more attention to the human rights situation in Tibet, and we're seeing the international ramifications with the U.S. ambassador, Clark Randt, already meeting the Chinese and urging restraint in Tibet.

So this is exactly what the Chinese don't want to see in the run-up to the Olympics, which for them signals their arrival on the world stage as a major power.

BROOKS: Okay, NPR's Louisa Lim, reporting from Shanghai. Thanks so much, Louisa.

LIM: Thank you.

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