Ethnic affairs chief calls for 'absolute fight against Dalai Lama clique'
Top ethnic affairs official issues appeal as police reported to have fired on Tibetan gathering
Amid reports that police opened fire on a Tibetan gathering in Sichuan province, the country's top ethnic affairs official has called for "an absolute fight against the Dalai Lama clique".
Yu Zhengsheng, who heads the nation's top political advisory body and is a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee, made his remarks during an inspection tour of the Gannan Tibetan prefecture in Gansu province on Sunday and Monday, Xinhua reported.
"For the sake of national unity and the development of stability in Tibetan regions, we must take a clear-cut stand and deepen the struggle against the Dalai clique," Yu was quoted as saying.
He reiterated Beijing's demand that the Dalai Lama openly recognise Tibet has been part of China since ancient times and abandon any separatist activities, Xinhua said.
His visit coincided with reports from overseas Tibetan rights activists that police had opened fire on a group of monks and others while they gathered to mark the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday in a Tibetan part of Sichuan.
Two Tibetan monks were in critical condition after being shot numerous times in the head at the traditional celebration in Ganzi prefecture on Saturday, according to the US-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.
Rights activists said hundreds of Tibetans from Tawu township, including many monks and nuns, had gathered at the base of a sacred mountain near the Nyitsu Monastery, when security forces arrived, began shooting and firing tear gas.
At least 10 participants - eight monks, a nun and a layman - were confirmed injured, ICT and the government-in-exile said. One of the injured monks, who is in hospital in Chengdu , was said to have suffered as many as eight gunshots to the head.
The official website of Ganzi prefecture appeared to be down yesterday and an official from the local government said he was not aware of the incident.
The Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the reports, but the Dalai Lama was using the occasion of his birthday to promote a separatist agenda. "We hope that people can see clearly the true nature of this," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing.
The reports of violence undercut a recent flurry of speculation over whether the new leadership was softening its stance on Tibet.
While military control in the Tibetan regions remain tight, especially during holidays, shootings are extremely rare.
"This does not have a precedent, and may well be the first shooting at a cultural gathering," said Robert Barnett, director of Columbia University's Modern Tibetan Studies Programme. "The big question is what went wrong here? This is a dramatic escalation and very serious."
Additional reporting by Laura Zhou