Tibetan monk protest in Lhasa draws China's ire

(Adds comment by Tibet governor, Chinese Foreign Ministry)

BEIJING, March 11 (Reuters) - Tibetan monks have defied Chinese authorities by staging a protest in the remote Himalayan region's capital Lhasa, provoking Beijing to respond that it would strike hard against such illegal activities.

Tibetans all over the world took to the streets on Monday to commemorate the 49th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule and to press their demand for independence as attention on Beijing increases ahead of the Olympics in August.

"Yesterday afternoon in Lhasa city there were monks from some temples who, under the instigation and encouragement of a small group of people, carried out an illegal activity that threatened social stability," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

"Related departments dealt with them in accordance with the law," he told a news conference, declining to elaborate on their fate.

"We will continue to maintain social stability in accordance with the law and strike hard against all illegal, criminal activities."

U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia cited a source as saying at least 300 monks marched from a monastery outside Lhasa to demand the release of monks detained last year after the Dalai Lama was awarded a Congressional medal in the United States.

"Authorities at a checkpoint along the way stopped and detained between 50 and 60 monks," the report paraphrased the source as saying.

"Witnesses reported seeing about 10 military vehicles, 10 police vehicles and several ambulances at the checkpoint. No information was immediately available on where the monks were taken or why ambulances were summoned," it added.

Another witness reported that official vehicles then blocked off access by road to Drepung monastery, and that many monasteries in and around Lhasa were surrounded by members of the paramilitary People's Armed Police, the report said.

Qin, who repeated the government's standard line that Tibet had always been part of China, said the government took a dim view of such activities.

"Guaranteeing the country's security and social stability is of the utmost importance to China and the responsibility of the legal authorities," he said.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted Tibet's governor, Qiangba Puncog, as saying the monks were "persuaded to leave".

"To prevent unnecessary disturbances from happening, we did some persuasion and they all left in peace," he added.

The protest coincided with demonstrations in India, Nepal and Greece.


In India, some 100 Tibetan refugees vowed on Tuesday to defy a police order and march to Tibet. They set off on Monday leaving from the town of Dharamsala, home to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the refugees' "government-in-exile".

But on Monday night Indian police told the marchers they were not to leave the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh state until further notice.

Marchers said they expected to reach the borders of the district by around Thursday evening, and continued their march as planned on Tuesday morning.

"Tibetan refugees have the right to return to Tibet," said Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress. "This is the first major obstacle we are facing, but we remain committed to marching."

Kangra police superintendent Atul Fulzele told Reuters he had received orders from the central government to restrain the marchers, since they were in breach of an agreement not to conduct "anti-Chinese activities" on Indian soil.

"If stopped, we are going to practice non-violence," one of the coordinators of the campaign, Lobsang Yeshi, told Reuters. "If arrested we will try to resist."

"If they detain us, we will start again as soon as we are released," added veteran Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue.

In Nepal, many protesters were hurt on Monday when police used batons to break up a march on the Chinese embassy, while in Greece activists complained of harassment by police when they lit a torch at Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games.

As the Olympics approach, Tibetans are trying to reinvigorate their freedom movement and protest against what they see as China's illegal occupation of their homeland.

The protests marked the anniversary of a 1959 uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, which was crushed by the People's Liberation Army, driving the Dalai Lama into exile.

The Dalai Lama last week rejected a Chinese accusation that he was trying to sabotage the Olympics, saying he always supported Beijing's right to host the Games. (Additional reporting by Abhishek Madhukar in DHARAMSALA, India; Editing by Nick Macfie)