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Group: Tibetans killed as China forces fire on crowd

Two Tibetans were killed when security forces in China's Sichuan province fired on protesters, bringing the death toll in recent clashes to four, a Tibetan advocacy group said.
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Two Tibetans were killed when security forces in China's southwestern Sichuan province fired on demonstrators Tuesday, bringing the death toll in recent clashes to four, according to a Tibetan advocacy group.

There was a report that more than 30 people injured during a separate protest Monday had taken refuge in a famous monastery, which was surrounded by Chinese military forces.

Chinese security forces have been on edge after 16 incidents in which Tibetans set themselves on fire over the last year in response to resentment of Beijing's controls on religion.

China's Foreign Ministry has branded the self-immolators "terrorists" and has said the Dalai Lama, whom it condemns a supporter of violent separatism, should take the blame. Most of the incidents occurred in Sichuan.

Some of the protesters have called for the return of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader revered by many Tibetans.

China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought much needed development to a poor and backward region.

Curfew imposed
Residents in Seda County, Sichuan, were under curfew after at least two people were shot dead and many more were wounded during protests at around noon Tuesday, the London-based Free Tibet group said in an emailed statement.

The official news agency Xinhua cited local officials as saying that a mob had attacked a police station and one person was killed, according to a BBC News report. Police tried "persuasion and non-lethal weapon defence" at first, according to Xinhua, but then used force and one "rioter" was killed.

Free Tibet said in a separate statement late Tuesday that it had confirmed that two Tibetans had been killed Monday in Luhuo, a township in the western highlands of Sichuan near Tibet. The group said it also had the names of 36 people wounded in the clash.

However, the precise death toll was unclear.

China's official Xinhua News Agency confirmed a clash took place in Luhuo, which is called Drango or Draggo by Tibetans, but said one protester was killed. It said there were a number of injuries, including five police officers.

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The London-based International Campaign for Tibet put the death toll at three, all Tibetans, and said nine people wounded.

The funeral of a 49-year-old Tibetan man killed in Luhuo by government forces — according to Free Tibet — was due to take place Wednesday and more Tibetans where traveling to the area, Reuters reported.

Injured surrounded in monasteryOn Tuesday, a Tibetan monk said 33 injured Tibetans had sought shelter in the Shouling monastery — one of the most famous monasteries in the region — while military forces surrounded the building.

"They want to take the injured people away but we won't let them because we don't trust them, we don't know what will happen to them," said the monk, who would not give his name out of fear of government retaliation. He said the monks worried about the massive security response.

"We are all in the monastery. Without the local residents around, the monks don't dare to go out," he said.

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The monk at the Shouling monastery told the AP that the protesters had been peaceful until police fired into the crowd.

"When it all started we were only standing in the streets shouting slogans," he said. After police opened fire, the Tibetans responded by smashing police cars and windows, he said. But he rejected official accounts that five police were also injured in the clash.

He said Tibetans were frustrated by the government's tight restrictions on their religious practices.

"The Chinese government says we have religious freedom but we have no freedom at all. If we did, then they would not be talking badly about the Dalai Lama. They say you cannot listen to the Dalai Lama, if we have pictures of the Dalai Lama we have to take them down," he said. "This really hurts our feelings; they hurt our self-esteem."

'Distorted the truth'
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei slammed the Tibet advocacy groups, accusing them of exaggeration.

"Overseas forces of 'Tibet independence' have always fabricated rumors and distorted the truth to discredit the Chinese government with issues involving Tibet," Hong said in remarks carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhua said more than 100 people, including monks, some armed with knives and stones, gathered to attack a police station after hearing rumors that three monks would set themselves on fire. They smashed two police vehicles and two fire engines and stormed shops, it said.

The violence is likely to add to rising tension in the traditionally rebellious Tibetan highlands of Sichuan, where security forces have struggled to maintain control over the heavily Buddhist communities that live off yak herding and gathering and selling herbs and medicinal plants.

After protests in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa spiraled into deadly attacks on ethnic Chinese residents in 2008, unrest spread across many ethnic Tibetan areas, and western Sichuan was among the most volatile areas.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.