Sunday, March 16, 2008

Monks march for a free Tibet

After last year’s monk-led protests in Burma/Myanmar , monks from monasteries outside Lhasa were on the march in Tibet. Coinciding with the 49th anniversary of the 1959 uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile, protests began last Monday, when roughly 400 monks set out to march the 5 miles from Drepung Loseling Monastery to Lhasa’s city center to protest rules restricting religious practices and requiring “patriotic education” in the monastery: i.e., monks must “study government propaganda and write denunciations of the Dalai Lama.” The marchers had made it about halfway when police arrested 50 or 60 of them and the rest promptly turned the march into a sit-in, in which 100 more monks from Drepung joined. As the Drepung monks were agreeing to return to their monastery on Tuesday morning, a dozen or so monks from the Sera Monastery waving a Tibetan flag (at right) began a pro-independence rally outside Tibet’s most sacred temple, the Jokhang, in the center of Lhasa. Arrests there sparked further protest that day, as a reported 500-600 monks stormed from the Sera Monastery demanding the release of their brethren—and independence for Tibet. On Wednesday, monks from the Ganden Monastery held their own protest, which was followed on Thursday by what are apparently the largest anti-Chinese protests to be held since the 1987 and 1988 protests by monks from the Drepung and Sera monastery. While those protests ended in bloodshed, Chinese forces seemed to be more restrained on Thursday, thanks to the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing. On Friday, however, violence erupted. Reports as to how it began or evolved conflict depending on whether the reporter is ethnic Tibetan or Chinese, but it would appear that monks from the Ramoche Temple set out to protest Chinese treatment of monks who had demonstrated earlier in the week. The Ramoche monks were joined by ethnic Tibetans, who began burning shops and cars, including military vehicles. The Dalai Lama asked both sides to avoid violence but otherwise supported the protesters, and thousands of Buddhist sympathizers in Nepal and India hit the streets to show their support. On Saturday, as Chinese authorities reported they had regained control in Lhasa, clashes broke out in the city of Xiahe, Gansu Province, where small protests had begun the day before and escalated to involve perhaps as many as 4000 Buddhist monks and Tibetans calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. Chinese authorities say they haven’t fired on the crowds, but witnesses report the opposite, claiming at least 30 deaths, if not 100.

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