Police use tear gas to stop second day of demonstrations in Tibetan capital

May 26, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- The Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was quiet last night after Chinese police used tear gas for the second day in a row to break up a street demonstration, Westerners said by phone from there.

Yesterday morning's protest in Lhasa's central square only involved an estimated 100 to 300 Tibetans, but police did not allow it to gather steam, the Western witnesses said.

"As soon as it started, the police bombed the people with tear gas canisters," said an eyewitness. "There was only one round of chanting from the protesters and then the tear gas immediately started exploding. The tear gas went off for at least a half-hour."

Yesterday's protest did not rival the scale of Monday's demonstrations, in which several thousand Tibetans participated. Also, unlike Monday, police did not fire weapons in the air to disperse the crowd, the Westerners said.

There have been no confirmed reports of injuries or fatalities.

Both days of demonstrations -- Tibet's most serious round of protests since those that prompted martial law in 1989 -- were over such economic complaints as price increases, taxes and corruption.

But the protests began the day after the anniversary of China's 1951 invasion of Tibet, a politically sensitive time for independence activists.

And observers saw signs of Tibetans' discontent with Chinese rule, including the brief display of the illegal Tibetan flag, the shouting of pro-independence slogans and complaints over the recent influx of tens of thousands of Han Chinese into the region.

"Clearly the economic issues are a problem, but the underlying reason for these problems is the arrival of so many Chinese in Lhasa, which has meant less jobs for Tibetans and more prostitution, alcoholism and marginalizing of their culture," Robbie Barnett, director of the Tibetan Information Network, a sympathetic London-based monitoring group, said by phone last night.

China has denied claims that it is conducting a form of ethnic cleansing by purposefully sending Han Chinese to the Himalayan region, which it claims has been a part of China since the 13th Century.

But Beijing-based diplomats who visited the city recently confirmed the presence of thousands of new migrants, drawn from other parts of China in search of land and lucrative trade, as the region joins in China's new wave of economic openness.

China's news media carried no mention of the protests yesterday.

But the Foreign Ministry acknowledged that two Tibetans recently were arrested for allegedly stealing state secrets -- arrests that may have been prompted by an attempt by Tibetans last week to talk with European diplomats on a human rights fact-finding visit.

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