Tibetan monks arrested over police station attack

by Tania Branigan, The Guardian, March 23, 2009

Beijing, China -- Almost 100 monks are being held in detention after hundreds of people attacked a police station and government officials in a Tibetan area of north-western China, state media reported.

The unrest broke out in Qinghai province on Saturday when a Buddhist lama vanished after escaping police custody. He was under investigation "on suspicion of Tibetan independence activities".

The official news agency, Xinhua, said monks from the local monastery attacked the police station in Ragya, a township in the Tibetan prefecture of Golog. Some officials were slightly injured. It added that six people were arrested for involvement in the attack, while 89 others surrendered. All but two were monks.

The incident underscores the deep tensions in the region. Tibet and areas of western China with a large Tibetan population have been under heavy security for weeks because of this month's 50th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule, and the one-year anniversary of a fatal riot in Lhasa which sparked unrest across nearby provinces.

Tibetan exiles from Ragya, who said they had spoken to eyewitnesses, put the crowd numbers at variously 1,000 and 2,000. Protesters believed the monk had killed himself after fleeing custody. One told AP that Tashi Sangpo, 28, was detained because he unfurled a Tibetan flag on the monastery roof on 10 March.

Separately, the Sunday Independent in South Africa reported that the Dalai Lama had been banned from entering the country for a peace conference. His visa was refused after pressure from China, leading Archbishop Desmond Tutu to threaten to pull out of the meeting, it said.