Tensions rise in Tibet as Chinese security forces bring fear to the streets

Jan. 31, 2012: Armed Chinese police officers patrol a Tibetan area of Chengdu in China's Sichuan province, neighboring Tibet.

Jan. 31, 2012: Armed Chinese police officers patrol a Tibetan area of Chengdu in China's Sichuan province, neighboring Tibet.  (AP2012)

There is great fear and tension on the streets of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

The most recent crackdown in Tibet by Chinese security forces has turned the historic capital into a place where citizens fear to walk the streets, according to various Tibetan groups.

With these forces deployed across the city, witnesses report random home searches for dissidents and instances where police forces interrogate people on the streets.

“How horrible it is! I dare not to look around in a casual manner, dare not move around freely,” a Lhasa resident said, describing the situation near the famous Jokhang Temple. “Armed personnel are everywhere, police are in every corner.”

Chinese authorities are using intimidation and surveillance in the country to install a culture of fear, Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet, told Fox News.

The latest crackdown in Tibet and surrounding provinces has been prompted by Beijing’s fear that protests in neighboring Sichuan province by Tibetans could spread to Tibet. Tibetans in Sichuan have been staging large demonstrations there for more than a week.

Tibetan support groups accuse the Chinese forces of firing on crowds in three separate incidents, killing five Tibetans and injuring scores more.

Many residents have told Tibetan groups abroad that these security personnel have warned them not to discuss politics during phone calls outside Tibet. In some instances, Tibetans have been warned that these security forces are somehow aware that they have made calls to relatives living outside the country.

Security has been increased around monasteries and major roads over fears of sabotage.

Qi Zhala, Lhasa’s Communist Party secretary, has warned clerics at monasteries they would be sacked if protests erupted.

He was quoted in the state-controlled Tibet Daily newspaper as telling officials they "must profoundly recognize the important significance of preserving stability in temples and monasteries," and warned that they must "strive to realize the goal of 'no big incidents, no medium incidents and not even a small incident.'"

On Wednesday, Chinese authorities gave their first detailed account of what has been going on in Sichuan. Beijing said “mobs” of rock-wielding Tibetan separatists attacked police stations and civilians.

The government-run China Daily newspaper said two Tibetan rioters were killed and 25 police and firefighters were injured in the clashes.

The paper went on to quote the Chinese government as saying, "No country governed by law would tolerate such violence directed against police and aimed at separating the country."

The article claimed that separatists were trying to stoke unrest in the area by encouraging monks to commit suicide by self-immolation.

It's difficult to substantiate the claims on either side since the Chinese severely restrict any access to the region by reporters.

More than a dozen monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire there in separate incidents over the past year to protest Chinese control.

The people who take their lives are said to set themselves on fire after chanting for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Tibet's spiritual leader remains in India after fleeing Tibet in 1959 after China took control.

The Dalai Lama has said he doesn't encourage self-immolation by monks and nuns protesting China's control over Tibet. And he has questioned its usefulness as a way to protest Chinese rule.

The ongoing protests have, though, worried the Chinese authorities.

It also highlights the apparent failure of Beijing to gain the support of the Tibetan people through its policies of economic growth in a very poor region.

Before this latest wave of protests, the Chinese security forces were already preparing for an annual period of protests centering on the Tibetan New Year in late February and a number of anniversaries in March from previous ant-Chinese uprisings.

The Chinese authorities have saturated the region with troops to try to contain any fresh uprising on the scale of nearly four years ago when 22 people died in violent clashes in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

But there are concerns that this Tibetan spring could bring greater violence than has been seen there in recent years.