China calm after protests in Tibetan region
Beijing - The situation had calmed on Tuesday in a politically sensitive Tibetan region in southwest China where witnesses and activist groups said security forces opened fire on protesters and killed as many as three people.
Several thousand Tibetans in Ganzi prefecture of Sichuan province marched to government offices on Monday and police opened fire into the crowd, an overseas Tibetan activist group said in statements. Three Tibetans were killed and nine wounded in the violence in the prefecture's Luhuo county, the International Campaign for Tibet said.
Another group, the London-based Free Tibet, put the death toll at one and said in an email statement that up to 30 others were shot and wounded in Luhuo, also known as Draggo in Tibetan.
The claims about Monday's protest could not be independently verified.
A Tibetan monk from Shouling monastery in Luhuo said police were patrolling but the situation was peaceful Tuesday after the protest by what he estimated were 10 000 people in front of the county government offices. He said most of the demonstrators were local Tibetan residents plus a few monks and Han Chinese residents.
The monk, who would not give his name, said police fired on the protesters and that one Tibetan farmer was killed. He said 32 others were wounded.
A man who answered the phone at the duty office of the Ganzi public security bureau on Tuesday denied there was any violence in the area, saying "nothing happened here, it's a rumour". He would not give his name.
A man from the county police said "nothing happened" and referred calls to the police command center. A man there said he was not clear about the case and hung up. Neither would give their names.
Tuesday was a holiday for the Lunar New Year and calls to the prefecture government rang unanswered.
The official Xinhua News Agency said late on Monday that one protester was killed and five police officers were injured after dozens of people clashed with police over the presumed self-immolation of a monk.
Xinhua quoted police as saying the self-immolation was a rumour, and that the protest turned violent when the crowd began attacking a police station with clubs and stones.
The unrest comes aid already high tensions following the self-immolations of at least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans in the past year. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Ganzi is a rugged, deeply Buddhist region filled with monasteries that has been at the centre of dissent for years. It is among the traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan province and other parts of western China that have been closed to outsiders for months amid a massive security presence.
Many Tibetans resent Beijing's heavy-handed rule and large-scale migration of China's ethnic Han majority to the Himalayan region. While China claims Tibet has been under its rule for centuries, many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for most of that time.
Kate Saunders, the spokeswoman for the London-based International Campaign for Tibet, wrote in an email that other Tibetans were beaten by police and injured. It says leaflets had been distributed saying Tibetans should not celebrate the New Year because of the self-immolations and the overall situation in Tibet. The Tibetan New Year falls on February 22 this year.
China is sensitive to protests by Tibetans because they threaten its control over its western region and may inspire protests elsewhere by Chinese with possible grievances.