Riots, arson, firing as protests escalate in LhasaMarch 15th, 2008 - 1:25 am ICT by admin
Beijing, March 14 (DPA) Violence erupted Friday in the centre of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, as the government deployed paramilitary riot police to control protests initiated by Buddhist monks, witnesses said. US-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported that “police had fired into the crowds,” citing witnesses.
“There were shots and deaths,” another source said.
Another witness said that he had seen two bodies outside the Jokhang temple, the holiest site in the city for Tibetan Buddhists.
The protestors beat up at least three fire-fighters and several police officers and tore down a Chinese national flag in the square outside Lhasa’s Jokhang temple, one witness said.
The witness said she saw three fire trucks in flames and protestors overturn and set fire to a police car.
Six or seven truckloads of paramilitary police were sent to the square with some police in protective riot gear, she said.
Groups of monks, students and other lay Tibetans ran towards the police and attacked them with sticks and stones, forcing the officers to retreat from the square, she said.
Another witness said the Tromsikhang market in central Lhasa was ablaze on Friday afternoon and that he had heard rumours of three deaths in the rioting.
The city’s airport was reportedly under military control, with no new tickets issued on Friday, but it was unclear if flights were still departing or arriving.
Dark smoke was seen coming from the square outside the Potala Palace, the traditional residence of the exiled Dalai Lama, the witnesses said.
A worker at Jokhang confirmed that a large protest had taken place outside the temple.
“Yes, there was a protest outside this morning,” the worker told DPA by telephone.
“Now the Jokhang is closed, so we can’t go out and people can’t come in,” he said.
The government confirmed that shops were set on fire and that some people were injured during violence in Lhasa on Friday afternoon.
“Witnesses said a number of shops along two main streets … and Chomsigkang Market were set on fire around 2 p.m., sending out heavy smoke,” a local media report said.
An unspecified number of people were treated for injuries in local hospitals, vehicles were burned, and violence was continuing at 4.30 p.m., the report said.
Friday’s rioting came amid reports of paramilitary reinforcements sent to control several of the monasteries.
Radio Free Asia reported Friday that two monks were in critical condition after apparently attempting suicide during the protests.
The monks from Drepung monastery on the edge of Lhasa slit their wrists and stabbed themselves in the chest earlier this week, witnesses told the broadcaster.
Monks from Sera monastery in Lhasa have begun a hunger strike as Chinese troops surrounded the three largest monasteries in the city in a government crackdown on the protests, Radio Free Asia reported. The monasteries are now off limits to tourists.
The protests have since spread to Ganden monastery and to Reting monastery north of the city, the broadcaster said.
The protests apparently began Monday, the 49th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule that was crushed by troops.
The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s highest leader, fled to India after the uprising.
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