Chinese Crack Down, but Tibetans Fight

Protests and killing spread across Tibet today, in defiance of the Chinese government's crackdown on the protests in Lhasa that began more than a week ago on the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

There were protests today across the Tibetan plateau, including in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Kham and Amdo.

Although official figures are not are available, more than 100 people are believed to have been killed in the largest anti-government protests in nearly two decades, according to the Tibetan government in exile.

Initially, the Lhasa protests came in response to the imprisonment of Tibetan Buddhist monks, but as the protests have expanded across the region, they also encompassed a growing number of problems that affect all the Tibetan communities, including cultural, economic and religious issues.

The fact that the protests are spreading to towns and villages is a significant development.

"If it's happening in bigger places, that's understandable. But if it's going to start to spread to smaller rural villages and then towns, then they're really in trouble," said Robert Barnett, a professor of contemporary Tibetan studies at Columbia University.

"The next question is whether the protests continue, knowing that there is a high level of shooting death," he said. "If the protests go on beyond that point, that's a very serious indicator that people are questioning if the Chinese have earned the position that they've taken to be the rulers."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at a news conference today that the uprisings were orchestrated by supporters of the Dalai Lama. He told China's annual legislative session that the government had acted with extreme restraint in putting down the protests.

But the Dalai Lama rejected the idea that his group had condoned the violence.

"Violence is against human nature," the Dalai Lama said. "We must not develop anti-Chinese feelings. Whether we like it or not we have to live side by side."

One Tibetan scholar, who did not want to be named for fear of offending the Dalai Lama, said what most Tibetan scholars have long believed: "They aren't organized enough to orchestrate things in Tibet from Dharamsala."

Despite the Dalai Lama's protests against violent behavior, he cannot control the violence inflicted upon his supporters.

In Tibet, simply owning an image of the Dalai Lama is banned. And today, at least one person was reportedly nearly killed for such a violation.

"We heard of one young Tibetan university student who wore a small pendant of the Dalai Lama had been taken in by police and been beaten so severely that he can't stand up," said Kate Saunderssaid, a spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet.

The ICT is urging the Chinese government to allow access to all Tibetan areas for international observers and independent journalists.

"A page has turned. No one knows what will happen next," Saunders said.

A Swiss tourist who flew from Lhasa to Kathmandu today said that Tibetans walk around the city in constant fear.

"Everyone is really scared," said Claude Balsiger, 25. "Even when there were no police around, no one was talking."

The protests today expanded beyond Tibet's borders to Kathmandu, where about 150 people went on a hunger strike.

Ngawang Tendol, 37, a Tibetan nun who was raised in India, said they were fasting in protest against the Tibetans who were killed.

"During hunger strikes, the nuns, monks are doing the meditation and thinking about Tibet and those [who] killed so many Tibetan people," she said. "We [are] also thinking about the Chinese who can get enlightenment to give us freedom."

She said it is difficult for the Tibetans living in Nepal, especially for her, since she grew up in India where there was more freedom.

"If you are in India when I was in school, whenever we have demonstration for Free Tibet they let us [march] very easily," she said. "But in Nepal, it's very difficult to have march. Tibetan people, they start demonstration but Nepali people, they stop it, beat some people."

Until now, most people in Tibet have not dared to protest. But it appears that that may have changed.

"Everyone's been too terrified to do this. But once someone dares to have done this, to risk their lives, then everything comes out, everybody dares," Barnett said. "Not one of them individually would have dared, but they hope there is safety in numbers and the numbers can grow very fast and very large."