BEIJING – Police beat and detained dozens of ethnic Tibetans during the latest protest in a restive region of western China, sparked when monks demanded the release of fellow clergy, residents and an activist group said Friday.
Authorities clamped down quickly after the protest Thursday in Qinghai province's Tongren county, imposing an overnight curfew while police and paramilitary officers checked ID cards and residency permits, a hotel receptionist reported.
Despite a strong deployment of security forces, anti-government protests have continued to flare up in Tibetan-inhabited areas of western China in the weeks following deadly riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
On Thursday, crowds gathered in Tongren county after Buddhist monks calling for the release of fellow clergy were joined by shoppers at a market, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
A senior monk sought to mediate, but police moved in, beating participants and detaining more than 100 monks and lay people, said the center, which is based in the Indian town of Dharmsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Receptionists reached by phone at Tongren hotels confirmed the protest, saying the crowd had gathered near the county offices.
"Today there's no more protests. Those people were all seized," one receptionist said.
A woman at another hotel put the number of protesters in the dozens and said the Rongwo monastery had been closed to visitors. Police and paramilitary officers were checking identification cards and residency permits and imposed a curfew, she said.
"Police even came to our hotel to check on people. No one was allowed outside after 12:00 a.m.," she said.
The receptionists refused to give their names for fear of retaliation by authorities. Officials have reportedly offered rewards for information on people leaking news of unrest to the outside world, where parts of the Olympic torch relay have been disrupted by anti-China protests.
A worker at a Tibetan restaurant near the monastery said police attacked protesters indiscriminately. "They were randomly beating people," said the woman, who gave her name only as Duoma.
The monks were demanding the release of clergy detained at a March 16 protest, in which about 100 monks climbed a hillside above the monastery, burned incense and set off fireworks, while riot police massed outside.
Tongren, located in a valley 600 miles north of Lhasa, is a mix of Tibetans and ethnic Han Chinese.
On Friday, the Tibetan government-in-exile accused China's leaders of using police dressed in Tibetan clothing and monk robes to instigate violent protests in order to justify the crackdown.
Most of the protesters involved in the violence that broke out in Lhasa on March 14 were unfamiliar to local people, Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, told reporters.
"There are cases where people have seen the Chinese policemen in Tibetan dress and monks' robes taking the leading role during the protest," Rinpoche said. He did not provide details.
It was not clear if Rinpoche was referring to photographs that have been circulating on the Internet showing uniformed Chinese troops holding red monk robes. But Tibet experts have said those images were taken during movie shoots several years ago, when the soldiers were employed as extras.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said last month that the accusations proved the Dalai Lama was using rumors "to shirk his responsibility in the criminal acts in Lhasa."
Beijing has blamed the violence and protests on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile has denied involvement in the violence.
State media invective against the Dalai Lama continued Friday, with the Tibet Daily newspaper accusing him and his supporters of "stopping at nothing to sabotage the Tibetan people's right to development."