China vows to strengthen 'patriotic education' campaign as continuing protests turn violent

Sunday, April 6, 2008

BEIJING -- China vowed Saturday to ramp up a campaign requiring Tibetan Buddhist monks to denounce the Dalai Lama and declare their loyalty to Beijing.

But resentment over "patriotic education" has ignited protests that have left eight people dead in recent days in a southwestern province and could fuel future unrest despite a massive security presence aimed at quelling the demonstrations.

The Tibet Daily newspaper reported Saturday that the government pledged to "strengthen patriotic education" especially among young monks to help them "become patriotic, religion-loving and law-abiding."

"We should strengthen patriotic education so as to guide the masses of monks to continuously display the patriotic tradition and uphold the banner of patriotism," the paper quoted Hao Peng, Tibet's deputy Communist Party chief, as saying.

China has been using the much-reviled practice of enforcing patriotism education for more than a decade in an attempt to exert greater control over religion. The practice requires monks to do ritual denunciations of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and accept the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, the second-highest ranking Buddhist leader.

The campaign had exacerbated tensions in Tibet in the months before anti-government demonstrations exploded in mid-March in the region's capital, Lhasa, and neighboring provinces.

The protests are the longest and most sustained challenge to China's 57-year rule in the Himalayan region. China's subsequent crackdown has drawn international scrutiny and criticism in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games.

Chinese authorities say 22 people died in anti-Beijing riots that broke out March 14 in Lhasa. The Tibetan government-in-exile says up to 140 were killed in the protests and ensuing crackdown.

Beijing has accused Dalai Lama supporters of orchestrating the violence, a charge the spiritual leader has repeatedly denied.

China imposed a military clampdown on a large swath of the western part of the country in an effort to rein in the anti-government demonstrations. But continuing unrest continued, partly ignited by the compulsory patriotic education.

Overseas activists groups say eight people were killed in the latest round of deadly protests in the southwestern Sichuan province on Thursday. State media reported late Friday that one government official was seriously injured in what it described as a riot.

The incident was sparked when a team of government officials attempted to enforce patriotic education at the Tongkor monastery in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to the London-based Free Tibet Campaign and the International Campaign for Tibet.

But the monks refused to criticize the Dalai Lama, and thousands of paramilitary troops searched the monastery for pictures of the exiled Tibetan leader. Two monks were detained after his pictures were found in their quarters.

Troops opened fire on a crowd of several hundred Buddhist monks and several hundred more citizens who had marched on local government offices in Donggu town to demand the release of the monks, the activist groups said.

The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia said Saturday it had unconfirmed reports that up to 15 people were killed and dozens more injured in the violence.

The official Xinhua News Agency had no information on deaths or injuries but confirmed that a riot broke out near government offices in Donggu. An official was "attacked and seriously wounded," and police were "forced to fire warning shots and put down the violence," Xinhua said.

Calls to local police and hospitals in the area were unanswered Saturday or else officials said they had no information.

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, based in India, also announced Saturday that two monks committed suicide last month in Sichuan's Aba County following government oppression. Aba County has been the scene of large protests involving hundreds of monks and citizens.

One monk, identified as Lobsang Jinpa, from the Aba Kirti Monastery killed himself March 27, leaving a signed note saying "I do not want to live under Chinese oppression even for a minute," the human rights group said.

The second suicide occurred March 30 at the Aba Gomang Monastery, when a 75-year-old monk named Legtsok took his life, telling his followers he "can't beat the oppression anymore," the group said.

It was impossible to verify the information since Chinese authorities have banned foreign reporters from traveling to the region.

In India, police arrested 17 Tibetan exiles as they attempted to march from the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh in northern India into Tibet, according to local official M.K. Bhandari. Ladakh is home to about 7,000 Tibetan exiles.

The exiles have been arrested for violating the law that prohibits entry into sensitive border areas.

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