Last week in Lhasa, Tibet, monks and nuns started peaceful marches to show support for Tibetan independence and demand the release of monks who had been detained as they celebrated the Dalai Lama’s receipt of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, CNN reports. Police responded by blocking some marches, firing tear gas into others, sealing off monasteries, and arresting monks and students who joined the protests.
The protesters had been largely peaceful until Friday, when monks attempted to march to the capital, rights groups said. When Chinese police blocked them, laypeople joined the protest and began lashing out at Chinese authorities.
Ethnic Tibetans then turned their anger to shops, market stalls and vehicles owned by Han Chinese, the predominant ethnic group in China. The Chinese government estimated that 10 people were killed in the clashes. According to The New York Times, however, Aides to the Dalai Lama said they had confirmed 80 killings of Ethnic Tibetans, including 26 victims killed just outside Drapchi prison. Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala said they had also received news that at least two Buddhist monks had set themselves afire in protest.
In response, the Chinese government has taken strong measures to quell the protests. The Washington Post reports that Chinese police conducted house-to-house searches in central Lhasa Monday and rounded up hundreds of Tibetans suspected of participating in anti-Chinese violence. The large-scale arrests and official promises of tough reprisals suggested the Chinese government has decided to move decisively to crush the protests despite calls for restraint from abroad.
The Dalai Lama responded by urging Tibetans to refrain from violence and accusing China of waging “cultural genocide” in Tibet. He called for an international inquiry into the suppression of protests there, his strongest defense to date of Tibetan Buddhists who have staged an uprising against Chinese rule.
The Los Angeles Times writes that the uprising presents the most serious challenge in years, if not decades, to China’s iron grip over its restive minority population. It comes at the most inconvenient time, with human rights activists already calling for a boycott of the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile the protests continue to spread to other parts of Tibet, and the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala, India.