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Tibet marches grow despite protest crackdowns

/ Source: news services

Thousands of Chinese security personnel fired tear gas to disperse monks taking part in rare street protests in Tibet Wednesday while police also clashed with nuns in India, according to reports.

The demonstrations follow a string of marches around the world to commemorate the 49th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule in the mountainous region that has become a flashpoint for protesters ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

In New Delhi, about 40 Tibetan nuns tried to storm the Chinese embassy, but were turned back and detained by Indian police, who briefly used water cannon on the protesters.

Several hundred Tibetan exiles in India set up overnight camps Wednesday but vowed to keep on marching to protest Beijing's hosting of this summer's Olympic Games, in defiance of an Indian government ban.
They plan a six-month march from India that could arrive in Tibet during the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games, in a bid to turn the Olympic spotlight onto China's often-harsh 57-year rule over the Himalayan region.

But India, fearing the protests could embarrass Beijing and jeopardize the increasingly close ties between the countries, banned the exiles from leaving the Kangra district that surrounds Dharmsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile. However, the marchers were eventually allowed to proceed Wednesday.

"Gandhi worked very hard for India's freedom. I want to do the same thing for my country," said Tenzin Pema, a 21-year-old protester.

A source and Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday that tear gas was fired in a bid to disperse more than 600 monks in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

'Electric prods and firearms'
"The police were armed with electric prods. Other uniformed security forces had firearms," the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

Radio Free Asia said the monks from the Sera Monastery protesting in Lhasa were demanding the release of fellow monks detained for protesting a day earlier.

The source said the group also shouted, "We want human rights and freedom."

One unidentified witness told U.S.-government funded Radio Free Asia that "there were probably a couple of thousand armed police ... wearing different uniforms. Police fired tear gas into the crowd."

About a dozen monks from Sera were detained earlier this month for waving a Tibetan flag and shouting pro-independence slogans, the source said, adding that government officials said they had been rounded up for "very serious" crimes.

On Monday, 300 monks defied authorities by staging a march in Lhasa, which a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman described as "an illegal activity that threatened social stability".

Tibet has since become a point of contention between Chinese Communist leaders and those who advocate independence or greater autonomy for the region.

The pro-Tibet protests around the world in the last week and the demonstrations within the heavily policed region itself are precisely what China's Communist rulers are keen to avoid ahead of the Olympics in August.

Reports on Wednesday also suggested China had closed the north face of Mount Everest to expeditions until after the Olympic torch ascends its peak in early May.