www.TibetanReview.net, Mar 31’08
Peaceful demonstrations by monks
It all began on Mar 10, the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day, when up to 600 monks of Drepung monastery in the outskirts of Lhasa tried to march to Bharkor in the centre of the city. They wanted to demonstrate there for the release of fellow monks jailed in Oct 2007 for celebrating the US Congressional Gold Medal for the Dalai Lama. Police stopped them about mid-way in their 10-km march, prompting resistance from the monks who stood their ground, shouted slogans calling for Tibet’s independence and tried to push ahead, resulting in scuffles and up to 60 of them being taken into custody.
On the same day, a group of seven monks from Sera Monastery staged a demonstration along the Bharkor, the circumambulation path around Tibet’s holiest shrine, the Jokhang, carrying Tibetan national flags. As the monks began shouting slogans, laypeople joined them. But the police arrived too soon on the scene for the rally to gain momentum. The monks were severely beaten, the crowd ordered to disperse and all the shops and street vendors in the surrounding area made to close down.
Also, Tibet.net, the exile Tibetan government online information service Mar 18 said that on the same day, a group of 15 monks, joined by two laypersons later on, led a peaceful protest rally from Tsuglakhang, Tibet’s holiest shrine, to Bharkor, carrying Tibetan national flags, shouting independence slogans and distributing pamphlets. Police pounced on them shortly afterwards, beating them mercilessly and dragging them away while ordering shops and vendors around the spot to shut down or pack up. Bharkor was reinforced by the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) troops. The protesting monks were reported to be Kham and Amdo natives at Sera Monastery.
On Mar 11, about 2,000 Sera monks staged a protest rally in the city, demanding the release of fellow monks while shouting independence slogans. Troops fired teargas shells to disperse them.
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), Washington, DC, Mar 13 reported that monks of Ganden Monastery had also demonstrated on Mar 12, although no details were available. Also on Mar 12, some 100 nuns of Chutsang Nunnery tried to march to Lhasa to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day. The PAP moved in and drove the nuns back to their nunnery. The next morning, the nuns succeeded in marching to the city, but there was no further information about them while the nunnery was seen to be left with only few senior nuns.
By Mar 13, Lhasa’s three major monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden had been locked down and surrounded by PAP troops, making life extremely difficult for the monks. Monks of Sera reportedly stopped attending their classes and went on hunger strike, demanding the lifting of the siege. Two monks of Drepung monastery, both hailing from Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture of Sichuan Province, stabbed themselves on their hands, chests and wrists in acts of frustration and refused to be taken to hospital, though needing urgent medical attention.
Protest turns violent
The Tibetan protests in Lhasa had largely remained peaceful, with the protesters being mostly monks, until Mar 14. On that day, as PAP blocked a group of about 100 monks of Ramoche Temple from taking out a rally, laypeople joined in and began pushing back the riot police. Violence flared as their number grew around a thousand, with some of the protesters beginning to hurl rocks at the security forces. Not long thereafter, the protesters turned their anger on shops, market stalls and vehicles owned by Chinese people, as well as on Chinese government structures and properties. Leaving thick black smokes billowing all over Lhasa, many protesters ran through the streets, displaying traditional white scarves in their hands and shouting “Free Tibet”.
The Tromsikhang market, built in 1993, was among those burned down. Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported Mar 14 that despite a huge presence of Chinese armed troops, protests continued.
The protests were reported to have taken place simultaneously at several locations in the city, with hundreds of protesters seen marching in several directions, including the Bharkor area. They kept on being joined by many more people, emboldened by the relative lack of police presence. Tibet.net Mar 14 cited reports as saying 10,000-20,000 Tibetans were involved in the Lhasa protests.
And although Lhasa was reportedly to have been brought under control by the evening of Mar 14 itself, there were pocket of protests in the morning of Mar 15, especially at Karma Kunsang in the east and Nangdren Roads in the north, reported TCHRD Mar 15.