Witnesses Report Gunfire in Tibetan Capital
By Stephanie Ho
14 March 2008
Violence is being reported in Lhasa Friday and fires have broken out in the center of the city, amid a week of protests against Chinese rule in Tibet. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing that rare street protests in the province appear to be gathering pace.
Eyewitnesses report flames engulfing at least one market on Lhasa's Barkor Street, near the Jokhang temple, which Tibetan Buddhists regard as one of their most sacred sites.
Vehicles also were burnt. China's state-run Xinhua news agency reports that people were injured in the violence and have been taken to a hospital.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has sent an advisory warning Americans to stay away from Lhasa, because of gunfire and other violence.
Tensions in the Tibetan capital have increased in recent days, as thousand of police and armed soldiers sealed off the city's three biggest monasteries. The largest anti-Chinese demonstrations in Tibet in 20 years began Monday, when monks tried to stage a march to mark the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Jan Willem den Besten is with the Europe office of the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group. He says the recent violence may be a sign that a growing number of Tibetans are unhappy with Chinese rule.
"It's a reflection of people's despair and the fact that people are aware the eyes of the world are on China in the run-up to the Olympic games. So, people use this opportunity to vent their frustration with the situation in Tibet, which has been very, very strict over the last 10 years in particular," said den Besten.
He says he thinks the protests serve a purpose in that they let people around the world know that the issue of the Tibetan autonomy is alive and well. But he says he also worries about the Chinese response.
"Obviously, we are very afraid that there will be a harsh clampdown on the demonstrators. And I must say, over the last few years, police response has been relatively mild. And so we're very concerned that there will be more harsh clampdown," said den Besten.
Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the march on Monday that sparked the latest wave of protests was an illegal act.
He said Chinese judiciary and law enforcement officials will do what is needed to safeguard national security and social order.
Beijing maintains that Tibet has historically been a part of China. But many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to crush Tibetan culture.
Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, lives in exile in India. He has been negotiating with Chinese authorities on a settlement for Tibetan autonomy.
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