- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - Armed police patrolled the quiet streets of a Tibetan community in northwest China on Monday, following an outbreak of anti-government violence stemming from the apparent suicide of a monk who had been questioned by police.

Hundreds of people, including about 100 monks, took part in an attack Saturday on the police station in Ragya, a town in Qinghai province’s Golog prefecture, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The crowd assaulted policemen and government staff, the agency reported.

The attack came at a sensitive time for the Chinese government, which has been eager to prevent a repeat of the anti-government rioting that rocked the Tibetan regional capital of Lhasa on March 14 last year. In addition, March 17 marked 50 years since Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to exile in India after Chinese troops crushed a Tibetan uprising.

Security has been tight in ethnically Tibetan regions throughout western China during the period of the anniversaries, with police checkpoints and paramilitary patrols common in the mountainous communities.

“There are still police patrolling but everything is quiet and nothing is happening today,” said a man who answered the phone at a private school in Ragya. He refused to give his name as is common among many Chinese.

Residents who spoke to The Associated Press by phone said security forces were on patrol but gave widely varying estimates of troop levels, ranging from 30 to 500.

“The monastery is quiet and there are no police stationed there,” said a man who lives near the Ragya monastery, home of the monk whose apparent suicide set off the protests.

The resident, surnamed Huang, added that 400 to 500 troops began patrolling the city on Saturday after the attack.

Police arrested six people accused of involvement, Xinhua said, and another 89 people turned themselves in. All but two of those in custody were monks, it said. The status of those taken into custody was unclear Monday.

A former resident of the area who now lives in exile in Dharmsala, India, said the protesters were angry because they believed a 28-year-old monk named Tashi Sangpo jumped into a river to commit suicide after being interrogated by police for allegedly unfurling a banned Tibetan flag.

The monk left the police station with the excuse that he had to use the bathroom, then jumped into the Yellow River, the source has said on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisals against his family still living in China. The body has not been found.

The exile said Tashi Sangpo unfurled a Tibetan flag on the roof of the monastery on March 10, the anniversary of the start of the failed 1959 Tibetan revolt and distributed pamphlets urging protests against Chinese rule.

It was difficult to independently verify details of the situation in Ragya, a traditionally Tibetan town that lies outside the boundaries of the modern Tibetan Autonomous Region set up by the Communist Party after its troops entered the area following the 1949 Chinese revolution. Communication is spotty in the area and residents are reluctant to speak with journalists for fear of official retaliation.

People who answered the phone at provincial, county and local government offices and public security bureaus said no one was available to answer questions. Phone numbers for the Ragya monastery and police station were not listed.

Although the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, has said that Chinese restrictions on Tibet’s religious practices have resulted in a “cultural genocide,” Beijing insists it has bettered the lives of the people by improving the economy and developing the remote Himalayan region.

Beijing demonizes the Dalai Lama, who is beloved by Tibetans, calling him “wolf in monk’s robes” who seeks to split Tibet from the rest of China. The government has recently sought to highlight its work in turning the remote Himalayan region from what it calls a feudal society into an economically vibrant area.

Meanwhile, the boy chosen by Beijing as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-highest figure, urged Tibetans to support the Communist Party of China in an article published in Monday’s People’s Daily newspaper.

“Tibet could only achieve today’s prosperity and development as well as a more beautiful future under the CPC leadership,” said the article published under Gyaltsen Norbu’s name.

Gyaltsen Norbu was apointed by China shortly after the disappearance of a six-year-old boy recognized in May 1995 by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen’s reincarnation. That boy, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, and his family have not been heard from since.


Associated Press writer Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India, contributed to this report.

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