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Violence Lhasa Protests:CHINA MUST TREAD CAUTIOUSLY,Monika Chansoria,18 March 2008 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 18 March 2008

Violence Lhasa Protests


By Monika Chansoria

(School of International Studies, JNU)

The Tibetan capital of Lhasa has been ablaze with severe rioting breaking out during the past week. According to official figures at least 10 people were burnt to death, in what could well be termed as the most violent pro-independence protests to have rocked the region in nearly two decades. However, Tibetan activists claim the figure of casualties was much higher.

This turmoil in Lhasa has occurred at a politically fragile time for China, which has incessantly been under the scanner over its human rights record as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in August. Beijing has kept a tight lid on dissent before the Olympics and may be wary of cracking down by the use of force in order to curtail any form of opposition. Negotiations and diplomacy are the call of the hour.

On March 14, the remote, mountain capital witnessed fresh violence as shops and police vehicles were set afire, in addition to the rioters burning police cars and targeting many shops that were owned by the Han Chinese, China’s biggest ethnic group. Thereafter, the police burst teargas shells to control the crowds and ordered monks to confine themselves within the monasteries as hundreds of Tibetans joined demonstrations as a sign of protest against Chinese rule.

The Chinese authorities came down heavily against the rioters and announced that people who took part in the riots should surrender by March 17, according to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua. “Those who turn themselves in to public security or judicial organs March 17, could receive light or reduced punishment, according to law,” said a notice issued by the Chinese-controlled Tibetan government police and judicial authorities.

The announcement of the security crackdown came as state television for the first time showed scenes of rioters burning buildings, another sign that authorities are preparing a public campaign to condemn the riots.

The Chinese media and the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) accused the Dalai Lama for ‘inciting the riots’. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader too lashed back by condemning the use of ‘brute force’ by Beijing. He described the protests as a manifestation of the ‘deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people under the present governance’. Crucially, the Tibetan government-in-exile has demanded the United Nations to intervene so as to end what it called ‘urgent human rights violations’ by China in Tibet.   

Apparently, the initial incident that triggered the ongoing violence and bloodshed occurred on March 10, when around 500 monks left the Drepung Monastery intending to march five miles west to the city center. This move could well be termed as a lucid public challenge to the Chinese rule as the monks from the monastery defied the authorities by staging a rare march in the remote Tibetan capital.

Subsequently, around 2,000 Chinese security personnel fired tear gas in an effort to disperse 600 monks from the Sera Monastery taking part in the second day of street protests in Lhasa. The demonstrations over past couple of days have followed marches around the world to mark the 49th anniversary of an uprising against Communist rule in the remote, mountainous region that has become a focal point for protests ahead of this year’s Beijing Olympics.

Monks belonging to the Sera Monastery began a hunger strike demanding the withdrawal of paramilitary People’s Armed Police forces from the monastery compound and the release of monks detained during the protests. Resultantly, Chinese military and police forces are reportedly heavily guarding and surrounding the monasteries in and around Lhasa. Moreover, news of the protests has been censored all over the Chinese news media, and Beijing has restricted foreign journalists to travel to Lhasa without permission.

Beijing has already made clear it saw no rationale to alter its policies in Tibet, where many locals resent the presence of the Han Chinese. “We are fully capable of maintaining the social stability of Tibet,” Xinhua quoted an official as saying in a statement that was repeated across Chinese state media. Furthermore, the Chinese government termed these incidents ‘an illegal activity that threatened social stability’ thereby attempting to scar China’s image months before the upcoming Olympics.

The spokesman for Chinese Foreign Ministry Qin Gang confirmed that protests had in fact erupted in Lhasa, but declined to provide details. “In the past couple of days, a few monks in Lhasa have made some disturbances in an effort to cause unrest,” Qin stated at a news conference. “Thanks to the efforts of the local government and the democratic administration of the temples, the situation in Lhasa has been stabilized.”

The International Campaign for Tibet in a statement has said that “The demonstrations are the largest by monks since the 1989 protests that led to the imposition of martial law in Tibet’s capital.” Yet another Tibetan rights group said about 400 monks from Lutsang Monastery in the northwestern province of Qinghai, known in Tibetan as Amdo, protested and shouted slogans for the return of the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama heads the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, a town situated in the hills of north India. He fled to India following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, nine years after the People’s Liberation Army troops marched into the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region. In his hard-hitting remarks, the Dalai Lama said that “repression continues to increase with numerous, unimaginable and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and the politicization of religious issues” by China. He has called for greater pressure on China over its human rights record and the Tibetan activists are hoping to use China’s hosting of the Olympics to publicize their cause.

In India, over 100 Tibetan exiles have been barred by New Delhi from marching to Tibet to protest against China holding the Olympics, according to local police officials. The planned six-month march from India to Tibet began on March 10, to coincide with the anniversary of the failed uprising in 1959.

Before the marchers in India set off, the Dalai Lama said he approved of China hosting the Games because it provided the world a chance to pressurize Beijing to uphold the Olympic ideals of freedom of speech and equality. “China should prove itself a good host by providing these freedoms. Therefore, besides sending their athletes, the international community should remind the Chinese government of these issues,” he said.

Significantly, violent demonstrations in the heavily militarized region is precisely what the Chinese leadership is keen to avoid ahead of the Olympics, so as to enhance its stature as a regional power and most significantly, a responsible player on the global platform. The current defiance in Lhasa appears as an attempt to draw global attention to what is seen as Chinese suppression of Tibetan identity. And, the present conflict is a comprehensible indication of spars between the Tibetan and Chinese authorities in the coming future. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)






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