Saturday, March 21, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - About 20 people attacked a government building in a Tibetan area in western China after a man accused of supporting separatism went missing, a state news agency reported Sunday.

Zhaxi Sangwu of Qinghai province had been under investigation for advocating Tibetan independence when he escaped from a police station in Gyala township Saturday, prompting a manhunt, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua cited authorities from the Tibetan prefecture of Golog as saying the man fled after asking to go to the toilet and remained at large. It cited a witness as saying he was seen swimming in the Yellow River, but police could only find the man’s clothes by the river.

Officials who answered calls to the local public security bureau and the government said they had heard nothing about the incident.

Xinhua’s report gave no reason for or details of the violence that resulted.

But a report on what appeared to be the same incident by the Tibetan exile Web site claimed the protests erupted because a man jumped into the Yellow River to commit suicide after escaping police while going to the toilet.’s report cited an anonymous source in Dharmsala who was a former resident of the area as saying the man was 28-year-old monk Tashi Sangpo _ which is pronounced similarly to Zhaxi Sangwu _ and that police found a Tibetan national flag and political leaflets in his room.

The Web site’s report said the monk’s death sparked an anti-China protest in the township, with Tibetans out in the streets chanting Tibetan independence slogans.

Security in Tibetan areas has been ratcheted up in recent weeks as Beijing tried to head off trouble ahead of sensitive anniversaries this month.

March 14 marked the one-year anniversary of anti-government riots in Lhasa, Tibet’s regional capital, while March 17 marked 50 years since the Dalai Lama escaped into exile in India after Chinese troops crushed a Tibetan revolt.

So far, it appears that major demonstrations have been prevented. Small pockets of protests, however, have been reported by Tibetan rights groups in recent weeks.

Most could not be independently confirmed because communication is spotty in those areas and residents who are reached usually will not talk for fear of official retaliation.

China claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing’s tight control is draining them of their culture and identity.

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