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 inprovince, 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 theback, we want to preserve our religion and culture,” said one monk, who switched from to Chinese when asked by an ABC reporter.
Footage shot bybroadcaster ATV showed seven or eight monks dressed in red robes emerging on a large square, raising the snow lion pennant of , labeled a “reactionary flag” by ‘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 ofon 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— which 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.
Champa Phuntsok, the Chinese-appointed head of the, 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, thein 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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