Open revolt defies China's iron fist

"They were treating us like animals on the streets" ? police
guard a bridge leading to the Labrang monastery in Xiahe.

"They were treating us like animals on the streets" ? police guard a bridge leading to the Labrang monastery in Xiahe.
Photo: AP

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March 17, 2008

HUNDREDS of Tibetans and monks have clashed with police in China as they dare to take their protest from their spiritual home of Lhasa into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

As the Dalai Lama branded China's crackdown on the dissent as "cultural genocide" and put the death toll as high as 100, he still called for the Beijing Olympics to go ahead. The International Olympic Committee rejected calls for a boycott of the Games in August. But protests threaten to ripple through Chinese provinces bordering Tibet.

In Aba county in Sichuan province, 200 Tibetan protesters hurled petrol bombs and burnt down a police station, and the main government building came under siege.

In Xiahe, Gansu province, protesters hurled rocks and bricks at police headquarters and smashed windows of Han Chinese shops and buildings. The double steel doors of the local police headquarters was shredded by Tibetans armed with traditional gogur weapons - a type of axe formed from yak skin and metal and used to fend off wolves. Last night locals watched riot police performing drills in Elephant Square and along the main road.

The protesters left the blue glass frontage of the police building shattered and many windows of the Communist Party's imposing headquarters, both in the main street, punctured with dozens of holes. Rocks and bricks littered the front of the complex. A visiting monk from the countryside who joined the protests in Xiahe said they had heard about the Lhasa protests through the telephone grapevine, through Voice of America radio broadcasts in local dialects and from families who have satellite television. "We want the Dalai Lama to come back, but the Chinese won't allow it. That is why we protest," the monk said.

Another monk told the Herald that police "used explosive devices that made a really loud noise and stung the eyes" - probably tear gas - to break up the gatherings. "They were treating us like animals on the streets," the monk said.

Later the Herald saw four police forcibly arrest a young Tibetan man, apparently for walking down the main street. One monk showed bruises on his arm.

Witnesses said crowds clashed with hundreds of police and troops trucked in from the nearest city, Lanzhou. Monks as young as seven and as old as 70 from the Labrang monastery took part in the protests with local Tibetans and people from the countryside, chanting "free Tibet" and waving Tibetan flags and scarves.

Labrang, one of the six monasteries of the Yellow Hat sect closely identified with the Dalai Lama, is home to about 2000 monks and a similar number of local Tibetans.

Meanwhile, police and troops locked down Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, the scene of deadly street riots on Friday. Chinese officials have demanded that the Lhasa rioters surrender by midnight tonight, and as shopkeepers cowered in their stores and tourists fled the city, there were reports of police searching door to door for protesters.

Tibet's government-in-exile said yesterday that 80 people had been killed. China's official news agency has put the toll at 10.

At Langmusi, another Tibetan town at the border between Gansu and Sichuan provinces, about 300 monks and locals from the Kerti monastery on the Sichuan side also protested on Saturday, said a Xiahe resident who had been in touch with Langmusi by phone. The local said the monastery was surrounded by police yesterday.

On Saturday more than 100 riot police armed with shields and helmets formed a barrier across the main street to prevent access to the Labrang monastery.

At a road bridge in the east of the town that leads to a Tibetan village, two rows of soldiers lined the way to prevent locals coming from the village to join the protest.

Yesterday the Chinese Government ordered the head of the Labrang monastery to stop monks leaving. Wire barriers and checkpoints were put in place to keep monks in the monastery.

Most of the colourful shops and restaurants on the main road of this popular pilgrimage destination, which boasts Olympic advertising billboards, were closed over the weekend.

One monk said yesterday: "The public security police are everywhere around the monastery so we feel afraid to talk aloud even to each other. Some police are not in uniform ? and there are also spies in the monastery, and that is why we are feeling afraid to talk of many things."

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacque Rogge, rejected a boycott of the Olympics over the crackdown, saying it would only hurt athletes. But he declined to say whether the committee would change its stance if violence continues or more people are killed.