Chinese forces have detained up to 24 Tibetans for taking to the streets shouting support for exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, an overseas rights group said. The protests were sparked by the arrest of a Tibetan who called for a boycott of next week's Tibetan New Year celebrations.
The initial protest, by a man called Lobsang Lhundup, happened in Lithang on Sunday, Free Tibet said in an emailed statement. Tibetans who joined the protest the next day were beaten and detained, it said.
A police officer in Lithang said he "did not have any such information", before hanging up the telephone. A police officer at the Ganze prefectural office denied any knowledge of the incident.
On Monday, a meeting of senior police officers in the Ganze prefecture called for maintaining stability and opposing separatism, and resolving problems that lead to "mass incidents," a Chinese term that refers to protests of all sizes. The meeting report did not specifically mention Lithang.
Next month marks the first anniversary of protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa and in Tibetan communities across the plateau, and the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing brands a separatist.
A week of demonstrations in Lhasa erupted in violence in March last year when a Tibetan crowd burned shops belonging to Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, killing 19 people.
Lithang, in the grasslands of western Sichuan province, is known for an annual festival popular with nomadic horsemen. Unusually, several months prior to the March events, a man spoke out at the 2007 festival and called for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan groups have said.
Some Tibetans have urged a boycott of the New Year's celebrations this year to commemorate the March uprising and subsequent crackdown. The idea has met with a mixed reception, with some Tibetan families quietly refraining from celebrations and others marking the holiday as usual.
It is "unclear" whether foreigners are currently allowed to travel to Lithang, a hotel receptionist there said on Wednesday. Guesthouses elsewhere in ethnically Tibetan areas of Sichuan are still open to foreign travellers.
Ethnically Tibetan areas in southern Gansu province, where demonstrations convulsed most towns last March, were closed to foreigners shortly before the Chinese New Year celebration in January.