Tibetan protests in Lhasa turn violent as Chinese forces crack down

The protests against Chinese occupation in Lhasa have turned violent, with an increased use of force by Chinese troops and police.

Image (Reuters): overturned cars and burnt-out shops in Barkhor Square, the large open-air market area in front of Jokhang temple, in the "Tibetan Quarter" of Lhasa, Tibet, earlier today.

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It's hard to explain how surreal and sad the photo above seems. When I traveled in Tibet to produce a radio series for NPR, I stood in that very spot for hours, recording the ambient sounds of Tibetan people worshipping at the door of Jokhang temple, chanting "om mene pedme om," and stretching their bodies out on the ground in a gesture of humility and faithful submission to the gods. Others stuffed barley flour and cedar branches into large incense burners nearby; those burnt offerings that were the only smoke I'd ever seen in this place.

The reports of violent force being used against monks and nuns in Lhasa temples are so hard to read. I am not a Buddhist, or Tibetan, and that culture is not my own. But the brief time I spent in and around those monasteries and nunneries affected me profoundly, permanently. The overwhelming sense of history, of accumulated prayers, of sustained and concentrated peaceful thought -- when I think of soldiers attacking worshippers in this place it's just so deeply incongruous, deeply sad.

Snip from NYT story:

Witnesses say the protesters burned shops, cars, military vehicles and at least one tourist bus. (...) A local travel agent, reached by telephone, said a riot broke out at the market and around the nearby Ramoche Temple because of friction between Tibetan and Han Chinese traders. The agent said fires erupted near the Ramoche Temple and elsewhere in the market area, while Tibetan traders also overturned a tour bus and set it ablaze.

“There was a fight between the bus owner and the Tibetans who set the fire,” said the agent, who is Han Chinese. “But not serious. Only several people got hurt.”

The demonstrations apparently expanded as protesters set fire to other shops. Western news agencies reported that monks from the Ramoche Temple went into the streets and clashed with police officers. “The monks are still protesting,” one witness told the Associated Press. “Police and army cars were burned. There are people crying. Hundreds of people, including monks and civilians are in the protests.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama released a statement online:
As I have always said, unity and stability under brute force is at best a temporary solution. It is unrealistic to expect unity and stability under such a rule and would therefore not be conducive to finding a peaceful and lasting solution.

I therefore appeal to the Chinese leadership to stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people through dialogue with the Tibetan people. I also urge my fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence.

Some travelers on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum for Tibet are posting first-hand testimony:
the situation seems to be very nervous and paranoid up here. there is police and military everwhere. suddenly you would see some policemen running and rushig somewhere... at night it's quite strange to see hundrets of policeforce watching you from every corner.
Reuters account here, and this BBC report includes a tourist's eyewitness testimony of ethnic Tibetan monks being beaten by Chinese authorities at Sera Monastery (a popular place for tourists to visit, encouraged as a sort of entertainment destination by travel firms -- when I was in Tibet, I heard some people refer to it as a "monk zoo"):
[W]e saw the police - two or three who were inside the compound - suddenly speaking into their radios. They started going after the monks, and plain-clothes police - I don't know this for sure but that's what I think they were - started to emerged from nowhere.

There were four or five in uniform but another 10 or 15 in regular clothing. They were grabbing monks, kicking and beating them. One monk was kicked in the stomach right in front of us and then beaten on the ground.

The monks were not attacking the soldiers, there was no melee. They were heading out in a stream, it was a very clear path, and the police were attacking them at the sides. It was gratuitous violence. The Tibetan lay-people started rushing to get out of the temple. Tibetan grandmothers were grabbing young kids and getting them out.

Previously on BB:
  • China sends in troops to quell monks' peaceful protests
  • Police attack peacefully protesting monks in Tibet
  • Protest inside Tibet captured on tourists' cameras
  • Hacking the Himalayas: Xeni's stories and trek-blog from Tibet and India
  • Boing Boing tv: Miss Tibet/Eames Elephants
  • Google, China, and genocide: web censorship and Tibet
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    1. Ths srs sss n Chn r gng t
      < hrf="http://www.smng.cm/md/1698/Brck_Bllywd/">rqr th hlp f hghr pwr!

    2. This is so sad. The images of burning cars in front of the Jokhang temple are in such stark contrast to the tangible, overwhelming feeling of peacefulness I felt standing in that same spot last fall. The foreshadowing of ominous clouds looming overhead in that photo also stands in opposition to the bright sunny days I remember there. The only smoke seen rising over Barkhor Square should be coming from the huge incense burners out in front of the temple…

    3. Without people burning cars and shops, that is a riot. It needs to be calmed down regardless of the cause.

    4. The problem now will be averting an initial massacre of Tibetans by Chinese troops. Tibet needs global attention and comment now. Bejing can be influenced not to slaughter them outright right now because of the coming Olympics. The later acceleration of the deliberate destruction of Tibetan culture by forced dispersal is another problem for another time.

    5. That was actually “With” not “Without”. Spelling mistake…

      We need to hope that this doesn’t escalate to something like L.A. riot, because violence doesn’t give the protestors more negotiation power from within the country, while bad for the image of the country in the rest of the world. And more destruction will just justify the army’s actions.

    6. Remember, too, that some of the “riot participants” may in fact be plainclothes cops. Their presence is well-documented and commonly understood in the area.

    7. good point. If the uprising is crushed very quickly without much apparent effort (and by implication not much support) it indicates the whole thing is orchestrated as a preventative and excuse – pre-Oylmpics.

    8. Keep posting Xeni – your personalization of it by your remembrances is what makes it more real for me as I read.

      This is the good Boing Boing. It shames the things that need unicorn chasers.

    9. I hope the quote from the NYT is just poor translation. “But not serious. Only several people got hurt.” really illustrates how desensitized people have become. Shouldn’t people getting hurt be enough?

    10. #6: Xeni, I agree that there is a chance some of the riots can be faked – though right now I would doubt that, because even though ‘violence’ is a way to discredit the protestors, the Chinese government itself would not want the news of the protest to spread all over the world, especially before the Olympics.

      The state of unity of China has been quite unexpectedly turbulent for the last couple weeks, probably because it is rather easy to use the Olympics to hold its neck. Taiwan is relatively calm since Chen is over (otherwise Chen would probably do the same), while a plane was hijacked just last week by Xinjiang separatists to crash in Beijing but fortunately rescued.

      It would be interesting to see if the reaction of the government is any different from 20 years ago. After all, their leaders had changed a few times. The way they will manage this issue will have tremendous effect on Taiwan as well.

      The next 5 months will be the hardest challenge for the Chinese government ever since 1989.

    11. @Kid I’m not saying the riots are “faked,” but that it is entirely possible some of the instigators are plainclothes police. But there are also a lot of pissed off young Tibetans who feel they have no other outlet for direct expression, and the situation seems pretty bad from any angle.

    12. I think anyone who has been to Tibet is touched by the people and way of life there. Thanks for keeping on the story. Those are some very brave people that are protesting, since we know the consequences can be torture and death.

      @kid: The gratuitous slam at Chen Shui-Bian is just silly. What do you imagine he’d be doing exactly? Taiwan has always been “calm”, doing nothing more than trying to gain its rightful place in international diplomacy. It’s been China lobbing missiles and threatening war for Taiwanese daring to express their desire to self determination in a peaceful way. The fact that China can use its military and economic power to gain the cooperation of other countries in its oppressive and violent policies adds no legitimacy to its claims.

    13. It’s worth remembering that the C.I.A. funded Tibetan rebel fighters, including Buddhist monks, for a decade after the Dalai Lama fled. Disguised agitators could come from either side.

    14. http://www.rfa.org/english/tibetan/2008/03/14/tibet_protest/

      From radio free asia, atleast 80 Tibetans are dead, they’re busing off and shooting innocents:

      “We saw two dead at Ramoche temple, two in the garden, two at the Ganden printing house, and those Tibetans who went to take food to prisoners in Drapchi prison saw 26 Tibetans shot after they were brought in on a black vehicle,” one Tibetan witness said. “There could be about 80 dead, or more, but there is too much commotion here to give an exact number.”

    15. Takuan, the rebels were funded for years, and then abandoned. The C.I.A. has a track record of doing that.

      If you want to know more, there’s a good documentary in six parts on youtube called “The C.I.A. in Tibet.” Or simply google the subject, of course.

    16. Most likely the instigators are from outside Tibetan political groupsl trying to stir up trouble before the Olympics. It’s doubtful that those who would be stirred would on one hand be able to point out all the plain clothes policmen to the tourists and on the other other hand would listen to these Chinese government plants to riot.


      CSB deserves to be slammed because he’s a traitor to the Chinese nation. You can view either the communists as the rightful government or you can view the KMT as the rightful government. Taiwan is a part of China no matter how the issue is viewed.

    17. Takuan, Will- The US promising aid and failing to follow through? Never, unpossible, completely unlikely!

      This is disgusting. I’m glad we’re ‘liberating the Iraqi people’ and setting our sights on Iran next, because we sure do like to help others.

      In ten, fifteen years, there will be a multimillion dollar documovie made, and the next generation will be watching it with the same horror that mine saw Hotel Rwanda. I hold myself as a cynic, but I still have trouble swallowing this. Shouldn’t the world have learned its lesson from past eforts at genocide?

      China is one of the big Five in the UN.

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