Chinese Police Fire on Tibetans as Violent Protests Spread

Chinese Police Fire on Tibetans as Violent Protests Spread
Tibetan novice monks from Kirti monastery participate in a candlelight vigil to protest against violence by Chinese police against demonstrators in Tibet, at Dharmsala, India. Photographer: Angus McDonald/AP Photo

Police in southwestern China opened fire on protesters in a Tibetan enclave during a clash Jan. 24, the second straight day of deadly protests in the area, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The confrontation occurred after a crowd gathered two days ago near the Chengguan Police Station, Xinhua said yesterday, citing an unidentified police officer. The crowd refused to disperse and then stormed the station with knives, gasoline bottles and stones, according to the report.

Police opened fire after attempts to disperse the crowd by non-lethal means failed, Xinhua reported. One protester was killed and another injured, in addition to 14 police wounded, according to the report.

“The Tibetan people are unhappy and restive about their lot in China,” Mohan Guruswamy, chairman of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a New Delhi-based research group, said in an e-mail. “There is ample evidence of it, and the acute Chinese sensitivity to any comment on Tibet is only proof.”

Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing in 1959 from China’s military takeover of the region. China accuses the Dalai Lama of waging a campaign for independence while the spiritual leader says he is seeking autonomy for Tibet.

The unrest was in the county seat of Seda, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Sichuan’s provincial capital, Chengdu. A clash the day before in Luhuo county left one protester dead and five police officers hurt, according to Xinhua. A crowd had gathered that day to witness the self-immolation of three monks, the news agency reported.

Violent Protests

Tibetan protests began in the rural mountains of western Sichuan in March when monks at a prominent Buddhist monastery in the province immolated themselves to highlight their opposition to Chinese policies in ethnic Tibetan regions. Fourteen monks or nuns have burned themselves to death since then and unrest has “spread to the general population of the area in protest against the arrest and prosecution of many bystanders,” said Bahukutumbi Raman, a political analyst with the Chennai Center for China Studies in southern India.

The protests have become violent in recent weeks and twice have targeted police stations, Raman said in an e-mail.

Local police have adopted “harsh measures” to counter the circulation of leaflets that called for Tibetans to avoid new year celebrations amid plans for more self-immolations, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a Jan. 23 statement that cited exiles in contact with local protesters.

Social Order

China will remain “resolute in maintaining normal social order,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a Jan. 24 statement carried by Xinhua after the first day of protests. Hong said overseas groups advocating Tibetan independence have “fabricated rumors and distorted the truth to discredit the Chinese government,” according to Xinhua.

In October, the U.S. State Department called on China to respect human rights and particularly “the rights of Tibetans” after a ninth person set herself on fire in protest at Chinese rule over the region.

“We urge Chinese leaders to address counterproductive policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions,” the State Department said in a statement Oct. 19.


Since then, there have been at least two further deaths by self-immolation, as well at least one failed attempt. Xinhua reported on Nov. 3 a Tibetan nun died in Sichuan after setting herself on fire, and said on Jan. 9 a Tibetan Monk in northwest Qinghai province died in similar fashion.

A Tibetan farmer was hospitalized after setting fire to himself, Xinhua reported on Dec. 2.

The U.S. government is “seriously concerned” about the reports of the latest violence and urges China to hold “constructive” talks with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the State Department said on Jan. 24.

The U.S. will make “clear” its concerns on the issue of human rights for Tibetans as well as the rest of China during Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington next month, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Xi will meet with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior officials to discuss bilateral and global issues, the White House said on Jan. 23.

— With assistance by Shiyin Chen, and Edmond Lococo

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