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Clash in Western China Mars Tibetan Celebration

By BRIAN SPEGELE, BEIJING (WSJ): At least nine Tibetans were wounded after Chinese paramilitary police opened fired in a restive portion of western China over the weekend as they attempted to celebrate the birthday of the Dalai Lama, according to the Tibet government-in-exile and a local resident.

All of victims appeared to survive, but the government-in-exile said one person was in critical condition. The incident offers the latest glimpse of the region’s tensions as well the way authorities are continuing sometimes violent suppression of the region’s Tibetan Buddhist followers, many of whom maintain strong reverence for the Dalai Lama despite Beijing’s best efforts to suppress them.

Police opened fire as several hundred local monks, nuns and other residents gathered on a hill near the remote town of Daofu, in Sichuan province’s restive Ganzi prefecture, they said. The town is known in Tibetan as Tawu. Details of the incident are sketchy, but the Dharamsala, India-based government-in-exile said among those wounded was the younger brother of a woman who set herself on fire there in November 2011 to protest treatment of local Tibetans.

At a daily press briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information on the situation in Daofu, adding that the Dalai Lama had used his birthday to instigate secessionist activity.

One Daofu resident said several thousand paramilitary police had been deployed to block local Buddhists from ascending the hill to participate in a celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The resident said she heard the gunshots as she descended the hill after being turned away by police.

The government-in-exile said in a statement Tuesday local Buddhists were stopped by police as they attempted to gather. “When they moved forward to talk to the police, they were shot at indiscriminately,” a spokesman for the exiled government said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

A person at the county’s local public-security bureau said he had no information regarding the incident.

More than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated across western China since March 2011 most of whom in regions heavily populated by Tibetans in western Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, which are adjacent to the Tibet Autonomous Region. It’s a worrying phenomenon for Beijing that has raised questions over the efficacy of Chinese stability-maintenance tactics.

Chinese official media has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, and his supporters of instigating followers to self-immolate, an allegation the government-in-exile has denied.

“Only when the Dalai Lama publicly announces that Tibet is an inalienable part of China since ancient times, gives up the stance of ‘Tibet independence’ and stops his secessionist activities, can his relations with the [Communist Party] Central Committee possibly be improved,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, as saying Tuesday during a visit to the far western province of Gansu.

The weekend clash underscores ongoing reverence for the Dalai Lama—who was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize—among monks and nuns in one of China’s most volatile regions. Chinese authorities have worked to crush allegiance to the Dalai Lama since Mao Zedong’s troops took control of the region in 1951. In recent years, they have flooded parts of the vast and underdeveloped region with state investment aimed at boosting economic development.

The Dalai Lama, who turned 78 on July 6, has been living in exile in India since 1959 after fleeing Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule.

Earlier in June, a 31-year-old nun named Wangchen Dolma fatally self-immolated in Daofu during a large gathering of Buddhists at a local Nyitso monastery, according to the London-based group Free Tibet.

Among those shot on Saturday were monks from Nyitso, as well as nuns from the nearby Gaden Choeling nunnery, which sits high in the hills above the small, frontier town, according to the government-in-exile.

Daofu’s monks, nuns and other residents detailed sustained and harsh suppression by local authorities during interviews with The Wall Street Journal in 2011. Tsewang Norbu, a former monk from Nyitso, and Palden Choetso, a former nun from Gaden Choeling, died after self-immolating in protest in August and November 2011. The government in exile said Palden Choetso’s younger brother, Jangchup Dorjee, was among those wounded on Saturday.

In the 2011 interviews, monks and nuns described the pair as falling into deep despondency with Chinese authorities after police similarly blocked worshipers from celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July 2011. They said at the time they were turned back from the local hill at gunpoint, and police subsequently cut off electricity to the monastery and nunnery as punishment.

It wasn’t clear what punishments, if any, local residents in Daofu received following the weekend clash, and monks and nuns in the region couldn’t be reached.

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