Fri, Mar 28, 2008 - Page 1 News List

PRC media trip backfires as Lhasa monks speak out

PROTEST A group of monks shouting that there was no religious freedom disrupted a carefully orchestrated visit for foreign reporters to Tibet's capital yesterday

AFP , BEIJING

A Tibetan Buddhist monk cries while speaking to foreign journalists during their visit to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Monks from one of Tibetan Buddhism's most sacred temples defied China's crackdown to protest in front of visiting foreign reporters in Lhasa yesterday, voicing their support for the Dalai Lama.

The protest came as China again refused to hold talks with the exiled spiritual leader, after US President George W. Bush added his voice to calls for dialogue in an effort to solve the Tibetan crisis.

Two weeks of demonstrations by Tibetans against China's rule of the remote Himalayan region have angered authorities in Beijing and put them under international pressure as they prepare to host the Olympic Games in August.

China has insisted its response to the protests, the biggest challenge to its rule of Tibet in decades, has been restrained and that it has brought the situation under control.

However, the protest by several dozen monks at the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, indicated the resentment over Chinese rule that triggered the unrest had not been extinguished.

"We want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, we want to be free," the monks yelled, said one of the 26 journalists who had been brought to Lhasa for a government-controlled tour of the capital.

The monks shouted down a Chinese official who was briefing the journalists on the unrest and denounced him as a "liar."

The protest was also reported by Japan's Kyodo news agency and other media organizations on the tour, while China's state-run Xinhua news agency carried a brief dispatch on it without mentioning the monks' statements.

Kyodo said about "30 young monks" were involved, while one journalist estimated the number to be between 50 and 60.

After several minutes, the foreign reporters were ushered from the scene by their Chinese minders.

China brought the foreign media delegation to Lhasa on Wednesday for a three-day trip following international pressure to allow independent reporting from the Tibetan capital, after it was sealed off because of the unrest.

Bush telephoned Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) on Wednesday to express his concern over the unrest and call for talks between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives.

However, Hu reiterated Beijing's position that the Dalai Lama was fomenting the unrest and trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics, a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

No talks were possible until the Dalai Lama gave up his independence push for Tibet and stopped "fanning and masterminding" the ongoing Tibetan unrest, Hu told Bush, the statement said.

"Especially [the Dalai Lama] must stop ... activities to sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games," Hu said.

Bush's phone call, which broke his silence on the issue, added to concerns expressed by other world leaders in recent days over Tibet, including those of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Sarkozy said on Tuesday he may not attend the Olympics opening ceremony as a statement against the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, encouraging Tibetan exiles and activist groups who are pushing for a boycott.

China sent troops in to "liberate" Tibet from feudal rule in 1950, and the next year officially annexed the devoutly Buddhist land.

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