Buddhist Monks Call for Dalai Lama

LUQU, China (AP) -- Tibetan monks in western China called for the return of their exiled spiritual leader Wednesday, as a top official warned that any disruption of the Olympic torch in Tibet would be severely punished.

It was the second time in as many months that Tibetan monks have interrupted media tours led by Chinese authorities.

The emotional outburst at the Labrang monastery in Xiahe, a town in Gansu province, began when a few monks started yelling slogans as journalists on a government-organized trip entered the nearby main prayer hall.

"We want human rights, we want the Dalai Lama back, we want to preserve our religion and culture," said one monk, who switched from Tibetan to Chinese when asked by an ABC reporter.

Footage shot by Hong Kong broadcaster ATV showed seven or eight monks dressed in red robes emerging on a large square, raising the snow lion pennant of independent Tibet, labeled a "reactionary flag" by China's communist regime. Their numbers grew to about two dozen during the 10-minute incident.

Since anti-government protests turned violent in Tibet's capital of Lhasa on March 14, authorities have tightly restricted access to Tibet and parts of western China where additional unrest has broken out among Tibetan communities.

Abroad, the Olympic torch relay - which Beijing hoped would showcase its rising economic and political power - has been beset by protests over Tibet and China's human rights policies.

Tibet's governor told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that he was prepared for Tibet activists to cause trouble when the torch passes through the Himalayan region next month en route to Mount Everest.

Champa Phuntsok, the Chinese-appointed head of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, said he believes supporters of the Dalai Lama, blamed by Beijing for instigating unrest in Tibet and western China, will use the relay to publicize their cause.

"For these separatist forces, the Olympics in Beijing will be a rare opportunity," he said. "During the torch relay in Tibet and in climbing Mount Everest, if anyone should attempt to disrupt or undermine the torch relay, then they will be dealt with severely according to the law."

The recent demonstrations against 50 years of Chinese rule are the largest and most sustained among Tibetans in almost two decades.

China has said that 22 people, most of them Han Chinese, died in Lhasa during the March 14 riots; Tibetan exile groups have said at least 140 Tibetans were killed. None of the reports or figures can be independently verified.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has organized trips to areas affected by rioting to underscore the damage the protesters caused and show that peace has been restored.

But this marks the second time such tours have gone awry - two weeks ago monks in Lhasa interrupted another closely monitored visit by foreign journalists. They complained they were prisoners in their own monastery and one monk broke down in tears as reporters were ushered away by authorities.

ABC reporter Chito Romana said handlers from the Foreign Ministry observed the Labrang protest Wednesday but did not try to block the monks. The Associated Press was not invited on the Xiahe tour.

The monks walked away after senior abbots appeared and calmed them down, Romana said.

Shortly afterward, a senior monk told reporters the protesters represented only a few of those at the lamasery. He said they would not be punished by monastery authorities, but could face sanctions if authorities find that they broke the law, Romana said.

To the south of Xiahe in Luqu, armed police manned a roadblock leading from the town of 7,000 toward the monastery of Xicang, some of whose monks are believed to have taken part in protests in March.

The glass front of the town's police headquarters was riddled with holes from stones and other objects hurled by rioters. Notices on the walls urged protesters to surrender to authorities while unarmed paramilitary police marched down the street and stood guard outside government buildings.

Also Wednesday, the London-based Free Tibet Campaign said Chinese police fired live rounds into a crowd of Tibetan protesters in Daofu, a county in Sichuan province, wounding 10 people.

The shooting occurred when hundreds of monks and other Tibetans gathered Saturday for a ceremony at the Nyintso monastery and started chanting "We want complete freedom. The Dalai Lama must return," the group said, citing unidentified eyewitnesses.

Telephone calls to the local police were not answered Wednesday night; residents said they had not heard of the incident.


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