- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

LHASA, China (AP) — A group of monks shouting that there was no religious freedom disrupted a carefully orchestrated visit for foreign reporters to Tibet’s capital yesterday, an embarrassment for China as it tried to show that Lhasa was calm after deadly anti-government riots.

Officials arranged the trip for the reporters to showcase that Lhasa was at peace after the mid-March violence and a subsequent government crackdown shattered China’s plans for a smooth run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

A group of 30 monks in red robes created an outburst as journalists were being shown around the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, by government handlers in Lhasa.

“Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who started to cry.

They said the Dalai Lama had nothing to do with the riots by Tibetans in which buildings were torched and looted and ethnic Han Chinese were attacked. The government has said the March 14 riots were masterminded by “the Dalai clique,” Beijing’s term for the Dalai Lama and his supporters.

Government handlers shout- ed for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away during the protest.

“They want us to curse the Dalai Lama, and that is not right,” one monk said during the 15-minute outburst.

“This had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama,” said another. The Chinese government says 22 people died, while Tibetan exiles say the violence and the harsh crackdown afterward left nearly 140 people dead.

The rioting and four days of protests that preceded it were the worst anti-Chinese demonstrations in Lhasa in nearly two decades, and they sparked protests in Tibetan areas across a vast portion of western China. The Chinese government has maintained that its response was measured and comparable to what any responsible government would do when faced with civil unrest.

The monks, who first spoke Tibetan and then switched to Mandarin so the reporters could understand them, said they knew they probably would be arrested for their actions but were willing to accept that.

Later in the day, however, the China-installed vice governor of Tibet promised that the Jokhang monks would not be punished for their outburst. He said they previously were confined to the monastery because some had taken part in the protests.

“We will never do anything to them. We will never detain anyone you met on the streets of Lhasa. I don’t think any government would do such a thing,” Baima Chilin told reporters.

The monks said troops who had been guarding the temple since March 14 were removed the night before the visit by the reporters. One monk said they were upset that monks who “not true believers but … Communist Party members” were planted in the monastery to talk to the journalists.

China rarely lets foreign reporters into Tibet under normal circumstances, so the media tour was meant to underscore the communist leadership’s determination to contain any damage ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August that was supposed to celebrate China as a modern, rising power.

State television showed the visit by the reporters on its evening news yesterday but did not show any of the protest at the Jokhang Temple.

“More than a dozen lamas stormed into a briefing by a temple administrator to cause chaos,” the official Xinhua news agency reported. “The media tour soon resumed.”

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