China's top police official called for stepped-up "patriotic campaigns" in Tibet's monasteries to boost support for Beijing, state media reported today, after a deadly clash between protesters and police in the country's west.
The demonstration in Garze, a prefecture in Sichuan province, started Monday as a peaceful march by monks and nuns, but grew violent when armed police tried to suppress the crowd, which ballooned to about 200 after residents joined in, the Dharmsala, India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
Garze borders Tibet, where several days of anti-government protests led by monks spiraled into violence on March 14 in the capital, Lhasa.
The government says at least 22 people have died in Lhasa while Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed, including 19 in Gansu province. China's official Xinhua News Agency said the protesters in Garze attacked police with knives and stones, killing one policeman.
The Tibetan rights group said one monk died and another was critically wounded after security agents fired live rounds into the gathering.
It was not possible to immediately confirm either claim. A woman who answered the phone today at the Garze prefecture government office denied there had been a clash. Other police, government and Communist Party offices in Garze and Drawu, where the clash took place, refused to confirm that the incident occurred.
The latest unrest indicates that Tibetan defiance is still running strong a week after thousands of Chinese troops fanned out in areas outside of Lhasa to clamp down on sympathy protests which have been burgeoning rapidly.
The uprising is the broadest and most sustained against Chinese rule in almost two decades and the communist leadership has accused Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters of masterminding the dissent.
Meng Jianzhu, the minister of public security, ordered Tibet's security forces to remain on alert for further unrest and said "patriotic education" campaigns would be strengthened in monasteries, according to the Tibet Daily newspaper.
"The Dalai clique refuses to give up their evil designs, and even in their death throes are planning new acts of sabotage," Meng was quoted as saying Monday during a visit to Lhasa, referring to Dalai Lama and his supporters.
Meng was the first high-level central government official to visit since protests began in the Tibetan capital on March 10, the anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Unrest among Tibet's Buddhist clergy has been blamed in part on compulsory "patriotic education" classes, widely reviled by monks for cutting into religious study and forcing them to make ritual denouncements of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Despite such complaints &
and repeated government claims that all Tibetans support the Chinese government's stance &
Meng said the campaign should be broadened as part of efforts to "grasp and direct public opinion in the correct direction."
"Deeply enact propaganda education in ethnic and religious policies and the legal system among all the temples," Meng said. "Let all people at home and abroad and all ethnic groups thoroughly understand the true facts of the matter, and seize the initiative in the propaganda battle."
In photos accompanying the article, Meng was shown touring damaged shopping streets, meeting with elderly monks and congratulating police on a job well done.
At a stop at the Jokhang Temple, Tibet's most sacred shrine, along with Sera and Drepung monasteries, where the initial protests were launched, Meng chided monks.
"Every religion should carry out their activities according to the law and should never undermine national solidarity," Meng was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "Participating in the riot essentially violated the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism."
Also on the trip was Zhang Qingli, Tibet's hard-line Communist Party leader, who said the region was in the front lines of a battle with the Dalai Lama and his followers.
"From start to finish, we face a prolonged, extreme, complex struggle," he said.
Zhang, who has been in his position for almost three years, is known for his inflammatory statements. Speaking last year in Beijing, Zhang proclaimed that "the Central Party Committee is the real Buddha for Tibetans."
The continued Tibetan resistance and the hardline stance by officials has put China's human rights record under the spotlight and has frustrated the communist leadership, which is hoping for a smooth run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
China has banned foreign journalists from traveling to the protest areas, making it extremely difficult to verify any information. This week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to take a small group of foreign reporters to Lhasa, though it is unclear how much freedom they will be given.
"We hope the international community could be clearly aware of the nature of the Dalai clique, can tell right from wrong," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
Underscoring China's longtime position, he said Beijing is open to dialogue with the Dalai Lama "as long as he gives up his separatist opposition and ceases his separatist activities."
In India, the Dalai Lama reiterated that he was against the use of violence and would resign as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if the situation got out of control.
"We always respect Chinese people and their culture," he said.
The Tibet Daily said 13 people were formally arrested in Lhasa on Monday for a March 10 protest outside the Jokhang temple. The 13 chanted "reactionary slogans" and carried a "reactionary flag," the newspaper said, indicating the snow-lion flag of independent Tibet.
In Aba, another Sichuan county, Xinhua said 381 people involved in protests had surrendered to police as of Monday. Aba is where state media said police shot and wounded four rioters in self-defense on March 16, the first time the government has acknowledged shooting any protesters.
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen and Muneeza Naqvi in Delhi, India, contributed to this report.
New clash reported in Tibet area