Gansu Tibetan unrest contained: witnesses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am


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The Tibetan independence protests in Gansu's Xiahe county appear to have been contained yesterday but residents said a strong police presence was still visible at the monastery where the riot first broke out.

Residents in the culturally Tibetan area said they had decided to stay in their houses since the first protest broke out on Saturday at the Labrang Monastery, a revered site in Tibetan Buddhism.

This is yet another Tibetan-populated area on the mainland to have felt the effects of the most severe Tibetan pro-independence unrest in almost two decades.

Gansu governor Xu Shousheng confirmed in Beijing yesterday that unrest had broken out in the province, blaming the riots on the Dalai Lama.

The London-based Free Tibet Campaign said at least 500 Tibetans had protested in the province's Luqu county on Saturday, where they burned Chinese flags and flew the banned Tibetan flag. A similar protest was also reported in the province's Dzoge county but no clashes with police took place, the organisation said.

A Han Chinese shopkeeper from Xiahe said most of the shops in the county were closed yesterday in fear of more unrest.

'They smashed shop windows along the streets as they marched [on Saturday], so no one dares open their shops today,' she said, adding that most of the protesters were Tibetans and some were monks.

'But things had quietened down today. There were no more protests but police are still stationed around the Labrang Monastery.'

A Tibetan resident, who lives opposite the county government office, said the protesters had marched from the monastery to the government building, where they started damaging property.

'They smashed all the glass doors and windows, and a monk was injured after being hit on the head by a stone,' she said.

A Tibetan receptionist in a youth hostel in Xiahe said up to 1,000 police had been deployed around the Labrang Monastery. 'But the monks and pilgrims are allowed to enter and leave the monastery,' she said. 'More police have been sent ... and they are everywhere on the street.'

She said government representatives had visited the hostel yesterday morning to check if any foreign tourists were staying there.

'They said foreign tourists were not allowed to leave the hostel,' she said.

'We had some guests [on Saturday] but they left this morning.'

Although geographically not connected to Tibet, the northwestern province of Gansu is home to one of the 10 Tibetan autonomous areas, with a population of at least 310,000 Tibetans.

The authorities in Xiahe were unavailable for comment yesterday.