UPDATE SUNDAY 6:30 A.M. BEIJING TIME
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported at least 10 civilians were burned to death on Friday. The Dalai Lama’s exiled Tibetan government in India said Chinese authorities killed at least 30 Tibetans and possibly as many as 100. The figures could not be independently verified.
In the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Saturday, police manned checkpoints and armored personnel carriers rattled on mostly empty streets as people stayed indoors under a curfew, witnesses said. The show of force imposed a tense quiet.
Several witnesses reported hearing occasional bursts of gunfire. One Westerner who went to a rooftop in Lhasa’s old city said he saw troops with automatic rifles moving through the streets firing, though did not see anyone shot.
Foreign tourists in Lhasa were told to leave, a hotel manager and travel guide said, with the guide adding that some were turned back at the airport.
“There are military blockades blocking off whole portions of the city, and the entire city is basically closed down,” said a 23-year-old Canadian student who arrived in Lhasa on Saturday and who was making plans to leave. “All the restaurants are closed, all the hotels are closed.”
NYT, among other sources, are reporting on the uprisings in Xiahe, Gansu:
Thousands of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans clashed with the riot police in a second Chinese city on Saturday, while the authorities said they had regained control of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, a day after a rampaging mob ransacked shops and set fire to cars and storefronts in a deadly riot.
Residents in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, walked through Barkhor, an ancient part of the city where protesters had set fire to a shop and several vehicles on Friday.
Conflicting reports emerged about the violence in Lhasa on Friday. The Chinese authorities denied that they had fired on protesters there, but Tibetan leaders in India told news agencies on Saturday that they had confirmed that 30 Tibetans had died and that they had unconfirmed reports that put the number at more than 100.
Demonstrations erupted for the second consecutive day in the city of Xiahe in Gansu Province, where an estimated 4,000 Tibetans gathered near the Labrang Monastery. Local monks had held a smaller protest on Friday, but the confrontation escalated Saturday afternoon, according to witnesses and Tibetans in India who spoke with protesters by telephone.
Residents in Xiahe, reached by telephone, heard loud noises similar to gunshots or explosions. A waitress described the scene as â€œchaosâ€ and said many injured people had been sent to a local hospital. Large numbers of military police and security officers fired tear gas while Tibetans hurled rocks, according to the Tibetans in India.
â€œTheir slogans were, â€˜The Dalai Lama must return to Tibetâ€™ and â€˜Tibetans need to have human rights in Tibet,â€™ â€ said Jamyang, a Tibetan in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, who spoke to protesters.
Update by Raj
An eyewitness account via the Times, by James Miles of The Economist in Lhasa. [The Economist had been given permission to enter Tibet recently – Chinese officials will be kicking themselves over that!]
Unsurprisingly Chinese “security forces” may well have kicked this all off.
It began with an attack on monks near one of Lhasaâ€™s temples. The security forces are reported to have beaten a couple of monks with their fists and this led to a monk retaliating by throwing stones at police and police vehicles. Nearby crowds then joined in, throwing stones at Chinese shops and businesses.
Obviously Tibetans didn’t get the memo from Beijing that if they’re attacked by government thugs, they’re to smile, thank their attackers and ask if they wouldn’t mind handing out another beating…..
Update by Richard TPD:
Chinese security forces in Lhasa on 5th day of protests
Chinese media are now saying ten have been killed in the Tibet protests. Whether the protests are wreaking chaos or whether they are small and localized seem to depend on whom you’re asking. What is not in question, however, is the fact that the CCP is now scared shitless of the cloud this has to cast over their beloved Olympic Games. Relevant or not, fair or not, there is no way they can reconcile the scenes of chaos with the rosy glow of harmony in which they shroud the Games.
The image China has attempted to show the world is flawed and there’s no way they can hide its deep structural defects. Winning the Olympics truly was “a double-edged sword.”
UPDATES SATURDAY MARCH 15: Associated Press, Reuters:
TURMOIL IN TIBET â€” Protests led by Buddhist monks against Chinese rule in Tibet turned violent, filling the provincial capital of Lhasa in smoke from tear gas, bonfires and burned shops. According to eyewitness accounts and photos posted on the Internet, crowds hurled rocks at riot police, hotels and restaurants. The U.S. Embassy said Americans had reported gunfire. U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported two people were killed.
DALAI LAMA COMMENT â€” Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, called the protests a “manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people,” and urged both sides to avoid violence. In Dharmsala, India, the site of Tibet’s government-in-exile, he urged China’s leadership to “stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue with the Tibetan people.”
U.S. COMMENT â€” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Beijing needs to respect Tibetan culture and multi-ethnicity in its society. “We regret the tensions between the ethnic groups and Beijing,” he said, adding that President Bush has said consistently that Beijing needs to have a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The U.S. ambassador to China has urged the government to “act with restraint” in dealing with the protesters, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK â€” The violence poses difficulties for a Communist leadership that has looked to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics as a way to recast China as a friendly, modern power. Too rough a crackdown could put that at risk, while balking could embolden protesters, costing Beijing authority in often-restive Tibet.
We’ll try to keep updating as the day progresses. Several commentators have left links below for photographs of the unrest in Lhasa. China Digital Times is also posting updates and information as they become available.
From the NYT:
Chinese security forces were reportedly surrounding three monasteries outside Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, on Thursday after hundreds of monks took to the streets this week in what are believed to be the largest Tibetan protests against Chinese rule in two decades.
The turmoil in Lhasa occurred at a politically delicate time for China, which is facing increasing criticism over its human rights record as it prepares to play host to the Olympic Games in August and is seeking to appear harmonious to the outside world.
Beijing has kept a tight lid on dissent before the Games. But people with grievances against the governing Communist Party have tried to promote their causes when top officials may be wary of cracking down by using force.
Qin Gang, a spokesman for Chinaâ€™s Foreign Ministry, confirmed Thursday that protests had erupted in Lhasa, but declined to provide details. He described the situation as stable.
Retuers also reports, citing sources who contacted the London-based Campaign for a Free Tibet, of other demonstrations being suppressed in ethnic Tibetan areas in Qinghai and Gansu:
Another rights group said about 400 monks from Lutsang monastery in the northwestern province of Qinghai, known in Tibetan as Amdo, protested on Monday and shouted slogans for their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to return.
About 100 monks from Myera monastery in the neighboring province of Gansu also protested on Monday, the rights group said, adding that police were investigating who was involved.
A source with knowledge of the protests quoted monks and witnesses as saying the sound of gunfire was heard outside the walls of monasteries. But no casualties have been reported.
The Christian Science Monitor has a reporter on the ground in Lhasa:
On most nights, Barkhor Square is full of ancient-looking pilgrims on a Buddhist kora around Jokhand temple, a 1,400-year old World Heritage Site.
But last Tuesday around 9 p.m., it was unusually quiet when about 30 police officers wearing riot helmets sped into the cobblestone streets in vehicles resembling golf buggies. In front of a few foreign tourists, the police grabbed two young men in street clothes, put them in headlocks, and hauled them away to a nearby police station…
In Barkhor Square, police officers shooed the group of foreign tourists out of the square and back to their hotels. The officers were smiling, as if this was for the foreigners’ safety. Clearly, something was going on in the latest hot spot of Asian tourism.
A young European backpacker, gasping for breath in Lhasa’s 3,650-meter altitude, came running into a hotel looking for an Internet connection.
“There’s a big protest going on in the road to Sera monastery,” he said. “There are hundreds of people in the street, howling like wolves. They look like local people and they’re angry because the police have arrested some monks. I didn’t see them fighting with police. It didn’t look violent. The police chased some of them into small alleys to arrest them.”
The tourist said police picked up him and other foreigners, questioned them, and escorted them to the hotel district in unmarked cars, warning them to stay inside. The backpackers sent out personal reports on the Internet, even as uniformed police and men believed to be spies stood outside cafes watching them.
This follows other news this week that Indian authorities have blocked Tibetan demonstrators who planned a march to the Chinese border, and reports that the Chinese government is restricting access to Mt. Everest this year, a move widely seen as a response to an incident last year when a pro-Tibetan independence banner was displayed on the summit of the world’s highest peak.
Not sure what the whole story is here, and I’m sure there is much more to it, from both sides, than what we know so far, but it’s a situation that certainly bears watching.
This might also be a good time to pull one from the vault, be sure to check out Dave at The Mutant Palm’s April, 2007 post: “Free Advice for the Free Tibet crowd.”