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Monks' Protest Rejects Chinese Rule in Tibet


Tibetan Monks are staging their biggest protest in nearly two decades against Chinese rule. Hundreds of demonstrators joined the Buddhist monks in the capital, Lhasa. Chinese state news agency reports that shops and cars were set on fire. It's extremely difficult to get independent verification of events in Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area.

NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Khun has been monitoring the situation and he joins us now. And Anthony, what do you know about today's protest?

ANTHONY KHUN: Well, things today definitely seem to take a turn for the more violent after several days of more peaceful demonstrations. There have been reports which we have not been able to confirm so far that police cars were set on fire, that army tanks were mobilized near the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former residence.

And also, we've heard that the three main Buddhist monasteries on the fringes of Lhasa have been blockaded by security forces. And it was Buddhist monks or lamas from these monasteries - Ganden, Drepung and Sera - that started the protests on Monday. They were commemorating a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. After which, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India, and they were also demanding the freeing of fellow lamas who had been taken into custody by security forces.

MONTAGNE: So, blocking those monasteries is to keep the monks in?

KHUN: That's correct. They have - the monks have, in past, taken a lead role in many protests against Chinese rule. And apparently, residents in the streets of Lhasa heard them shouting for pro-independence slogans and things like that.

MONTAGNE: So, police presence there is pretty heavy.

KHUN: That's what we understand. We understand though that also Beijing has not used a lot of lethal force yet. That they will probably be using more low-key tactics, like searching for monks house-to-house. They will be telling Tibetans to stay off the streets and avoid helping the monks. But we have not seen massive mobilization of the army. But now that these thing seems to be escalating, it's hard to say how they're going to react.

MONTAGNE: And this is the latest in a week of protest. And there have been protests outside Tibet as well.

KHUN: Yes, there have been protests worldwide to commemorate that 1959 uprising in front of consulates all over the world. Tibetans and their supporters have gathered to protest, particularly the big exile community of Tibetans in Dharamsala, India sent a force of 100 marchers towards the Tibetan border. But China was able to prevail upon the Indians to stop these people and to tame them. And so, China has put quite a bit of pressure on its neighbors, including Nepal to bar people from engaging in what they consider anti-China activities.

MONTAGNE: Would you say that this is the most serious challenge to Chinese rule in Tibet in many years?

KHUN: Well, there's been a lot of low-level unrest in Tibet in recent years, including in Eastern Tibet last summer. But probably we haven't seen such massive unrest since 1989 when there were riots in Lhasa. But there has been a lot of pressure building, surely activists are trying to take advantage of the fact that media attention is turned on China for the Olympics. There's concern about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader who's now aging at age 72. And there's frustration at pressure tactics by Chinese authority, such as trying to get monks to denounce the Dalai Lama.

MONTAGNE: Anthony, thanks for joining us. NPR's Anthony Khun in Beijing.

On protest against Chinese rule in Tibet, demonstrators set fire to shops and vehicles in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, today.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Morning Edition
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.