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Tibetan student protests spread: overseas group

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibetan students in western China protested again on Thursday against policies to extend the use of Chinese language in classes, building on demonstrations earlier this week, a campaign group said.

The London-based Free Tibet group said students took to the streets in Tawo Town, also known as Dawu, in Qinghai province, which has a large ethnic Tibetan population.

In another protest elsewhere in Qinghai, middle school students in Tongren were stopped from leaving the school grounds, said the group.

About 2,000 students from four schools in Chabcha county in Tibet itself demonstrated on Wednesday against government plans to reduce instruction in Tibetan in favor of Mandarin Chinese, the Free Tibet group said in an email.

“We want freedom for Tibetan language,” students in Chabcha shouted, according to the group, which is critical of Chinese policies in Tibetan areas and campaigns for their self-rule.

The reported contention over use of Mandarin for education is the latest point of friction between the government and ethnic Tibetans, often resentful of Beijing’s controls on their region, culture and Buddhist religion.

Tibetan dialects are vastly different from the Chinese language. The government says Tibetans should become fluent in Chinese to benefit from wider education and job opportunities.

Critics say the policy threatens Tibetan culture, and will leave students fluent in neither Tibetan nor Mandarin.

Calls to government offices in Qinghai province were not answered in the evening, after Free Tibet sent out an emailed statement that also had what it said were pictures of some of the protests.

Police and teachers sought to end the protests, said the group. It did not mention any violence.

On Tuesday, at least 1,000 ethnic Tibetan students marched through Tongren, also known as Rebkong, without police interference, residents contacted by telephone and the Free Tibet group said earlier.

At least 19 people died in protests in Lhasa against Chinese rule in 2008 which sparked waves of unrest across Tibetan areas. Tibetan exile groups say more than 200 people died in the subsequent crackdown, and sporadic protests have continued.

China maintains tight control over the Tibet Autonomous Region but normally give greater leeway to the large Tibetan populations in neighboring provinces, such as Qinghai.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; editing by Andrew Roche