China seeks to contain ongong Tibet unrest

Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:58am EDT

(Adds Chinese criticism of France, paragraphs 18-20)

By Benjamin Kang Lim and Lindsay Beck

BEIJING, March 26 (Reuters) - China sought on Wednesday to contain ongoing protests in its ethnic Tibetan regions, as it stepped up detentions in Tibet's capital Lhasa and vowed tighter control over monasteries.

The western province of Qinghai was the latest area to report anti-government activities, with hundreds of civilians staging a sit-down protest after paramilitary police stopped them from marching, a Beijing-based source who spoke to residents said.

"They were beating up monks, which will only infuriate ordinary people," the source said of the protest on Tuesday in Qinghai's Xinghai county.

A resident in the area confirmed the demonstration, saying that paramilitaries dispersed the 200 to 300 protesters after half and hour, that the area was crawling with armed security forces and that workers were kept inside their offices.

The Tibet unrest -- and China's response to it -- has also become a lightning rod for criticism of its Communist authorities ahead of the Beijing Olympics, marring the country's desire to use the Games as a "coming out" party.

The unrest began with a series of peaceful marches in Lhasa earlier this month that soon led to a deadly riot. China says 19 people died in the violence, while representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile say 140 died in clashes.

China has pinned the blame for the protests on the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism who lives in exile in India. He fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and denies he masterminded the demonstrations.

But echoing China's public security minister, Chinese scholars vowed to press ahead with "patriotic education" in Tibet's monasteries, accusing monks there of being duped by the Dalai Lama into supporting separatism.

The education campaigns, which have increased under Tibet's current Communist Party boss, Zhang Qingli, are blamed by some for sowing resentment of Beijing within the region's Buddhist monasteries, but the scholars said they were necessary.

"The purpose of patriotic education is because the Dalai clique has been trying hard to disrupt development in Tibet and disrupt the normal practices of Tibetan Buddhism," Dramdul, who heads the Religious Studies Institute at the China Tibetology Research Centre, told a news conference.

"Patriotic education ought to stop the infiltration attempts by the Dalai clique and provide education to the monks," he said.

CRACKDOWN

The Beijing source said resentment at the paramilitary presence around Lhasa's monasteries prompted one monk at the Ramoche temple to hang himself.

Police were searching for those involved in the demonstrations and the riot earlier this month.

"It's very harsh. They are taking in and questioning anyone who saw the protests," the source said. "The prisons are full. Detainees are being held at prisons in counties outside Lhasa."

Despite international calls for Beijing to use restraint in its response to the unrest, the United States and Britain have reiterated their support for the Beijing Games, although Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said Washington should be more forceful in speaking out against violence in Tibet.

"I don't think we should wait until the Olympics to make sure that our views our known," Clinton told reporters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday refused to rule out a possible boycott of the Olympics.

Beijing on Wednesday criticised French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for saying he could not tolerate the crackdown in Tibet and French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade for saying he would meet the Dalai Lama if he visited France.

"The Lhasa riot is a violent, secessionist incident planned and incited by the Dalai group," the official Xinhua news wire quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying.

"Any country that has an objective and just point of view should understand and support China's measures to maintain social stability and safeguard people's lives and property."

RESENTMENT

In a letter circulated by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, a Lhasa resident described tight controls on religion and resentment over an influx of Han Chinese residents since a rail link was built to the remote, mountain region.

"While the government promised that the new railway to Lhasa would bring prosperity, tourism and cheaper goods to the region, the reality is that it has brought so many new settlers that the demand for, and consequently the price of, everyday commodities has sharply risen," the letter said.

"Monks are always discriminated (against) and targetted as the primary danger to the state," it added.

But, illustrating the gulf in views about the cause of unrest between Beijing and Lhasa, Lhagpa Phuntshogs, who directs the China Tibetology Research Centre, said the Dalai Lama had instigated marches among monks, who wanted to restore serfdom.

"What do they want? I think it's very clear that they want to try to restore the old theocracy in Tibet. The separatist elements are not happy with the end of theocracy in Tibet ... and they are not happy with the end of backwardness in Tibet." (Additional reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by David Fogarty)