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Monks rush staged tour of Tibet's capital

Tibetan Buddhist monks walk inside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa on Thursday. Chinese police sealed off the four major monasteries that ring the city after monks disrupted a media tour.

Associated Press

Tibetan Buddhist monks walk inside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa on Thursday. Chinese police sealed off the four major monasteries that ring the city after monks disrupted a media tour.

LHASA, China — The stage-managed tour of Jokhang Temple, Tibet's holiest site, was going according to the government script. Suddenly, 30 young Buddhist monks pushed their way in, slammed the door and began shouting and crying to the foreign reporters that there was no freedom in the riot-torn region.

"What the government is saying is not true," shouted one monk, as a wellspring of grievances poured out before government officials abruptly told the journalists it was "time to go."

The emotional, 15-minute outburst by the red-robed monks decrying their lack of religious freedom was the only spontaneous moment Thursday in an otherwise tightly controlled government trip to the Tibetan capital for foreign reporters following this month's deadly riots.

On the second day of the tour, officials hewed to the government line — that the most violent anti-Chinese protests in nearly two decades was a plot by the exiled Dalai Lama and his supporters. Officials escorted two dozen reporters to shops, clinics, a school and a jail to interview victims and rioters, many of them already widely interviewed by state media.

Those who tried to break away from the pack were followed by car and on foot, making all but the most fleeting of contact with ordinary Tibetans risky.

The monks who interrupted the officials' tour complained that troops had ringed the monastery and kept it shut with all 117 monks inside since March 10 — the day the protests began — and were only removed Wednesday, when foreign journalists arrived.

"Tibetans have no freedom," one monk said. "We want the Dalai Lama to come back," said another, adding that they were certain to be detained.

Hours later, the temple and the large square in front that is usually thronged with worshipers were closed again by paramilitary police in helmets and plastic shields.

The three major Buddhist monasteries that ring Lhasa — Sera, Drepung and Ganden — and a fourth, Ramoche, where the March 14 rioting started, remain sealed off by police. Investigators were gathering evidence against monks who took part in protests, officials said.

Even as China seeks to show that Lhasa's protests have subsided and worldwide concern should not affect the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics, the government seems to be rejecting appeals for impartial outside observers and relying on old methods that have inflamed Tibetan anger.

The protests and rioting in Lhasa touched off widespread demonstrations in Tibetan communities in other parts of Tibet and across western China — the broadest challenge to Chinese rule since the failed 1959 uprising that sent the Dalai Lama into exile.

Lhasa remains scarred by the rioting that spread over two days, with at least 22 people dead by the official count.

The Dalai Lama said Thursday that he was in touch with "friends" to try to start a dialogue with Chinese officials.

"I think this is time the Chinese government and Chinese officials, I think, must accept the reality," he said in New Delhi. "Now, in any case, we are (in the) 21st century, pretending or lies cannot work."

. fast facts

Tibet protest unfurled in Greece

About a dozen pro-Tibetan demonstrators unfurled banners in a central square in Thessaloniki, Greece, shortly before the Olympic torch relay arrived in the city Thursday. The protesters, mostly Greeks, gathered about half a mile from the route of the torch for the Beijing Olympics. The banners read: "China is not worthy of the flame," and "China stop killing Tibet." The flame arrived in Thessaloniki later without any problems. Police are bracing for possible protests in Athens, where the torch relay is due over the weekend before it is flown to China. Protesters are angry at China's handling of deadly riots in Tibet this month and want the torch route to be changed to exclude Tibet.

Monks rush staged tour of Tibet's capital 03/27/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 10:51am]
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