Tibetan sources have reported that around 600 hundred monks marched out of Sey monastery in Ngaba (Aba in Chinese) to celebrate the annual prayer festival of Monlam Chenmo, challenging a ban imposed by the authorities. They dispersed when armed police and officials confronted them in anti-riot gear.
Police is currently surrounding Sey Monastery but it is not known whether they have entered the site or not.
Eyewitnesses said that monks asked the authorities for the right to pray, and continued to do so after the latter’s refusal.
In the same region a monk from Kirti Monastery, Tapey, set himself on fire last Friday after a similar ban on Monlam Chenmo celebrations.
This festival was established in Tibet in 1409 and is one of the country’s main religious holidays.
China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that he is in hospital with burns to his neck and head. Other sources say that police shot at him after he set himself on fire.
On Saturday at least 500 people gathered in Dharamsala for a candle vigil to pray for Tapey.
Tibetans report that a violent crackdown was carried out in Ngaba last year. On 16 March also of the same year police shot at unarmed protesters praying in front of Kirti Monastery, killing at least 1o people, including Lhundup Tso, 16.
In Tibet the situation is increasingly tense. The month of March marks the 50th anniversary of the uprising against Chinese rule which began on 10 March 1959. It is also one year ago that protests marking that same anniversary led to a crackdown that left many people dead and many more arrested.
Today the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, quoted a government white paper, claiming that the “Tibet issue” is being stirred up by anti-China forces in the West in an attempt to ‘weaken, split and demonise China.”
The paper went on to say that some Western politicians said that “to control Tibet is to control China.”
China’s media and state-run websites have picked up the story and run with it.
Last year Beijing had also played up the nationalist card in order to explain anti-Chinese pro-Tibet protests during the world leg of the Olympic torch relay.
“Our people are anguished and have a deep desire to preserve their Tibetan identity, culture and way of life and religion,” Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche explained.
“Deliberate provocations [by Chinese authorities] against their very way of life and identity impel a response by Tibetans;” but “they are met with prompt brutal action on the part of the PRC,” he said.
“Yesterday and the day before, [. . .] monasteries were not allowed to perform religious functions and these imposed restrictions have intensified after the New Year” (25 February).
“We appeal to the international community, ever so urgently, as March 10 draws near, to encourage, persuade and educate the PRC not to resort to force and repressive measures during these sensitive days.”
In the meantime the Dalai Lama’s non violence has come in for criticism. But Rinpoche stressed that he “remains a steadfast influence on the youth. [. . .] We have told our youth: resist injustice, but through non violence.”