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Monks begin hunger strike to protest Chinese crackdown

Buddhist monks in Tibet have begun a hunger strike while two others attempted suicide amid Beijing's crackdown on widespread protests against Chinese rule, a US-funded radio service said on Friday.

world Updated: Mar 14, 2008 11:30 IST

Buddhist monks in Tibet have begun a hunger strike while two others attempted suicide amid Beijing's crackdown on widespread protests against Chinese rule, a US-funded radio service said on Friday.

Tensions in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, have increased in recent days, with thousands of soldiers and police surrounding the city's three major monasteries, as the mountainous region became a focus for protests ahead of this year's Olympic Games in Beijing. Large demonstrations in Lhasa this week have drawn hundreds of monks to protest Chinese rule.

Radio Free Asia reported that two monks from the Drepung monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa were in critical condition after slashing their wrists Thursday.

Monks at a second major monastery launched a hunger strike Thursday to demand that armed police withdraw from the monastery grounds and detained monks be released, RFA reported. "The monks in Sera Monastery are observing a hunger strike inside the premises," an unidentified source told RFA. "They vowed not to eat or sleep unless their demands are met." Large-scale demonstrations that began Monday have spread to a third monastery, Ganden, in the Lhasa area, as well as the Reting monastery north of the city, according to RFA and the London-based International Campaign for Tibet.

The ICT said monks from the Ganden monastery mounted protests Thursday, becoming the last of the three historically important monasteries known as the "Three Pillars of Tibet" to join in the demonstrations.

Troops and armed police in Lhasa have placed the three monasteries under a virtual lockdown, according to the ICT and other witnesses.

Authorities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region have warned civil servants to stay away from monasteries and convents, while inspections are being conducted city wide to search for monks and nuns in hiding, sources told the RFA.

It is extremely difficult to get independent verification of events in Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area. Foreigners need special travel permits, and journalists are rarely granted access except under highly controlled circumstances. The protests by the Buddhist monks began Monday, the anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Beijing rule. Demonstrations have also spilled over into traditionally Tibetan areas in the neighboring province of Qinghai. Monks at two other monasteries _ the Lutsang monastery and Ditsa monastery _ also held small protests but were not detained by police, according to Radio Free Asia.

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang confirmed that protests had taken place, but said the situation had "stabilized." Qin accused the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, of inciting separatism, though he provided no evidence. Demonstrations were also held in northern India on Thursday, where more than 100 Tibetan exiles were dragged away to prevent them from continuing a march to their homeland to protest China's hosting of the Olympic Games.

Clutching Tibetan flags and pictures of the Dalai Lama and Indian pacifist Mohandas K. Gandhi, the protesters began a hunger strike after being charged with threatening the "peace and tranquility" of the region.

The protesters were ordered to appear before a magistrate late Thursday and asked to sign a statement promising to refrain from political activity "now and in the future," Tenzin Palkyi, a march coordinator, told The Associated Press. They refused, he said. Beijing maintains that Tibet is historically a part of China. But many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping it with Han people, the majority Chinese ethnic group.