BEIJING – Soldiers on foot and in armored carriers swarmed Tibet’s capital Saturday, enforcing a strict curfew a day after protesters burned shops and cars to vent their anger against Chinese rule. In another western city, police clashed with hundreds of Buddhist monks leading a sympathy demonstration.
The violence erupted just two weeks before China’s Summer Olympic celebrations kick off with the start of the torch relay, which passes through Tibet. China is gambling that its crackdown will not draw an international outcry over human rights violations that could lead to boycotts of the Olympics.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on China “to exercise restraint in dealing with these protests,” while the State Department issued a travel alert for Americans in the region. Her statement also called for China to release monks and others jailed for protesting.
The latest unrest began Monday on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet was effectively independent for decades before communist troops entered in 1950.
Initially, the protests were led by Buddhist monks demanding the release of detained monks. Their demands spiraled to include cries for Tibet’s independence and turned violent Friday when police tried to stop a group of protesting monks. Pent-up grievances against Chinese rule caused Tibetans to direct their anger against Chinese and their shops, hotels and other businesses.
It was the fiercest challenge to Beijing’s authority in nearly two decades.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported at least 10 civilians were burned to death on Friday. The Dalai Lama’s exiled Tibetan government in India said Chinese authorities killed at least 30 Tibetans and possibly as many as 100.
In the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Saturday, police manned checkpoints and armored personnel carriers rattled on mostly empty streets as people stayed indoors under the curfew, witnesses said.
Several people reported hearing occasional bursts of gunfire. One Westerner who went to a rooftop in Lhasa’s old city said he saw troops with automatic rifles moving through the streets firing, though did not see anyone shot.