Buddhist monks call for Dalai Lama

LUQU, China – Tibetan monks in western China called for the return of their exiled spiritual leader Wednesday, as a top official warned that any disruption of the Olympic torch in Tibet would be severely punished.

It was the second time in as many months that Tibetan monks have interrupted media tours led by Chinese authorities.

The emotional outburst at the Labrang monastery in Xiahe, a town in Gansu province, began when a few monks started yelling slogans as journalists on a government-organized trip entered the nearby main prayer hall.

“We want human rights, we want the Dalai Lama back, we want to preserve our religion and culture,” said one monk, who switched from Tibetan to Chinese when asked by an ABC reporter.

Footage shot by Hong Kong broadcaster ATV showed seven or eight monks dressed in red robes emerging on a large square, raising the snow lion pennant of independent Tibet, labeled a “reactionary flag” by China‘s communist regime. Their numbers grew to about two dozen during the 10-minute incident.

Since anti-government protests turned violent in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa on March 14, authorities have tightly restricted access to Tibet and parts of western China where additional unrest has broken out among Tibetan communities.

Abroad, the Olympic torch relay — which Beijing hoped would showcase its rising economic and political power — has been beset by protests over Tibet and China’s human rights policies.

Tibet’s governor told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that he was prepared for Tibet activists to cause trouble when the torch passes through the Himalayan region next month en route to Mount Everest.

Champa Phuntsok, the Chinese-appointed head of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, said he believes supporters of the Dalai Lama, blamed by Beijing for instigating unrest in Tibet and western China, will use the relay to publicize their cause.

“For these separatist forces, the Olympics in Beijing will be a rare opportunity,” he said. “During the torch relay in Tibet and in climbing Mount Everest, if anyone should attempt to disrupt or undermine the torch relay, then they will be dealt with severely according to the law.”

The recent demonstrations against 50 years of Chinese rule are the largest and most sustained among Tibetans in almost two decades.

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