China invokes Panchen Lama as Tibetan protests spread

March 16th, 2008 - 5:30 pm ICT by admin  

Beijing, March 16 (DPA) China Sunday issued a statement condemning rioting in Lhasa from its state-appointed Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Panchen Lama, amid reports that independence protests had spread to several more monastery towns. China’s 18-year-old Panchen Lama was chosen in 1995 by state-sponsored Tibetan Buddhist leaders.

A rival Panchen Lama, chosen and recognised by supporters of the exiled Dalai Lama, has reportedly been held under virtual house arrest in China since he was six years old.

An estimated 3,000 Tibetan protesters in the town of Xiahe, near Labrang monastery in China’s Gansu province, Saturday shouted statements in support of the Dalai Lama and called for the release of the Panchen Lama, US-based Radio Free Asia reported.

More protests were reported in Lithang, Sershul and Ngaba towns in a traditional Tibetan area of Kham now under China’s Sichuan province, reports said.

Monks also protested at Samye monastery, south of Lhasa, while troops with tanks and armoured personnel carriers imposed virtual marital law in the Tibetan capital, the broadcaster said.

The Indian-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said paramilitary police fired tear gas and warning shots into the air to disperse the protestors in Xiahe.

Some of the monks and lay Tibetans who joined the rally were beaten or arrested by police, the centre said.

Chinese authorities Saturday demanded that Tibetan rioters in Lhasa surrender to the police or face more serious punishment for the violence that reportedly claimed dozens of lives following five days of escalating pro-independence protests.

State media said at least 10 people died in fires in Lhasa Saturday, while the Tibetan government in exile, based in the Indian city of Dharamsala, said it had unconfirmed reports of about 100 deaths in the city.

The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s highest leader, fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against the occupation of Tibet by Chinese troops since 1951.

The current protests began Monday to mark the 49th anniversary of the 1959 uprising.

The reincarnate Panchen Lama is often considered second in importance to the Dalai Lama by Tibetan Buddhists.

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