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Tibet: A Tough Story to Cover
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Tibet: A Tough Story to Cover

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Tibet: A Tough Story to Cover

Tibet: A Tough Story to Cover
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Recent demonstrations in Tibet prompted Chinese authorities to crack down on journalists. They have blocked access to the region and sent "minders" to follow reporters who were trying to cover the unrest.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This weekend, unrest began spreading beyond Tibet into the provinces on its border. But finding out exactly what's happening there is proving more and more difficult, as NPR's Louisa Lim reports.

LOUISA LIM: I'll come clean at the outset. This is a story of failure, frustration, and fatigue. With violence breaking out in Lhasa on Friday after five days of protests, the big dilemma was how to cover the news. Going to Tibet itself was out of the question. A special permit is needed even in normal circumstances.

Reports have begun to trickle out of protests elsewhere, including in Xiahe in Gansu province where thousands of monks from Labrang Monastery were marching through the streets. But Saturday, I was on a plane to Gansu. So were many other foreign journalists, rushing in the absence of solid information to see what we could find out. Everyone knew it would be a matter of time before the authorities betrayed their promise to give the overseas media complete freedom to report in China in this the Olympic year. And sure enough, police were stationed at each toll booth and were doing extra spot checks along the way.

I managed to get within 20 kilometers of the monastery. Then a roadblock staffed by about eight policemen checking IDs and searching trucks. Foreigners were being turned back for our own safety, I was told, the entire region is now closed to outsiders. Nonetheless, some of my colleagues did reach Xiahe and elsewhere to report on this - the biggest challenge to Chinese rule in the region for decades. They saw lines of moving clad monks marching, riot police in body armor, tear gas being fired, even gunshots as civilians cowered. They heard of beatings and detentions. At least two dozen colleagues shared my fate and were forced to leave Tibetan areas. But the policing is internal as well as external. People are literally muzzled by fear. Even Westerners working in Lhasa can't talk, fearing phone taps and knowing future projects and cooperation could be jeopardized.

For local Tibetans, there's a lot more at stake. Two young boys I spoke to muttered under their breath, there's been a lot of trouble, we can't say anything else. Self-censorship is common, too. Even voicing certain thoughts could be classed as a count to revolutionary offense. That was made clear to me by one young Tibetan I met in a pool hall in Lhasa several years ago. He put his hand on his chest saying, there were things in my heart I cannot say. I didn't ask him if he was referring to the Dalai Lama. It wouldn't have been fair.

During this trip, I also saw how ordinary people are forced to police each other. After I was turned back, my hapless drivers were given responsibility for taking me to the airport. It was made clear that if they didn't, they would suffer the consequences. And just to be sure, we were escorted by a police car for the first 60 miles and then tailed for 200 miles by a black sedan.

My own insignificant experience is part of a bigger picture. A sign the authorities are deploying all their resources to ensure an information blackout. It's mind boggling that in this age of the shrinking world, China's locking down an area roughly the size of Western Europe, closing it off from the outside, but that's exactly what's happening.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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Beijing's Deadline Passes for Tibet Protesters

Gordon Fairclough of 'The Wall Street Journal'
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Tibetan protesters in exile hold a candlelight vigil as part of an anti-China demonstration.

Tibetan protesters in exile hold a candlelight vigil as part of an anti-China demonstration at the Swayambhu Nath temple in Kathmandu. Around 200 Tibetan exiles held a vigil in Nepal's capital to show support for protesters in Chinese-controlled Tibet. At least 59 Tibetan exiles shouting "Free Tibet" were detained in the Nepalese capital after police broke up two protests outside a U.N. complex, using sticks and tear gas. Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

A midnight deadline for protesters in Tibet to turn themselves over to Chinese authorities passed on Monday as residents of the capital, Lhasa, braced for house-to-house searches by police following a violent crackdown that left 16 people dead, according to official figures.

Earlier Monday, the Beijing-appointed governor of Tibet promised leniency to demonstrators who voluntarily surrender and harsh consequences for those who don't.

"If these people turn themselves in, they will be treated with leniency within the framework of the law," said Champa Phuntsok, the China-appointed governor of Tibet. Otherwise "we will deal with them harshly," he added.

China also lashed out at Tibetan supporters of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader-in-exile, for allegedly attacking its embassies around the world. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters that China would not flinch in the face of the demonstrations.

"I'd like to reiterate that the Chinese government will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Liu said in the central government's first comment on the crisis.

"Tibetan independence forces used violent acts to break through police cordons in foreign countries and break into Chinese embassies and consulates," Liu said, calling on international governments to increase security of its missions.

The protesters launched demonstrations last week to press their demand for independence for the territory, which was forcibly annexed by China in 1951. They were the fiercest anti-China protests in nearly two decades.

The Chinese government has acknowledged that 16 people have been killed in the Lhasa demonstrations and crackdown. Some Tibetan exile groups claim 80 deaths. Sympathy protests have spread to three provinces bordering Tibet. Chinese troops have fanned out to break them up.

Some Tibetan protest leaders on Monday expressed disappointment that the Dalai Lama, has taken a conciliatory approach to Beijing in the wake of days of anti-China riots.

In Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama set up a government-in-exile when he and thousands of followers fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising, Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said "the middle way has been in existence for 20 years and nothing has come out of it."

Samdhong Rimpoche, the exiled government's prime minister, said the government felt helpless as more reports of deaths came in from Tibet, along with unconfirmed reports that Chinese hospitals were turning away injured Tibetans.

By night, hundreds of Tibetans in Dharamsala have been holding candlelight rallies in streets and monasteries.

From NPR and wire reports.

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