Tourists tell of Tibetans’ violence
Jeremy Page and agencies | March 19, 2008
KATHMANDU: Western tourists emerging from Tibet have described their shock and fear as they watched a “howling” mob of Tibetans stoning and beating Chinese passers-by in two days of rioting in Lhasa last week.
The accounts came as China said 105 “rioters” involved in protests in the Tibetan capital had surrendered.
Official news agency Xinhua said 105 people gave themselves up to authorities overnight, 23 hours after a deadline set by the Government for those involved in last week’s unrest to surrender.
Chinese authorities said rioters killed 13 “innocent civilians” on Friday, when a week of protests by Tibetans against China’s rule of their homeland erupted into violence in Lhasa.
Authorities have insisted that they did not use any lethal force to quell the protests, however Tibetan exiled leaders have said possibly hundreds of people were killed in the ensuing Chinese crackdown.
Meanwhile, Western tourists told The Times the Tibetan crowd turned on anyone and anything that looked Chinese, knocking over motorcyclists, hitting them with metal rods and setting fire to their motorcycles.
Their testimony illustrated the ferocity of the riots, which have undermined not only China’s claims to have brought peace and prosperity to Tibet but also the Dalai Lama’s longstanding creed of non-violent resistance.
“It’s hard to pick a side in what happened,” said John Kenwood, a 19-year-old backpacker from Canada who flew into Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, yesterday after spending ten days in Lhasa.
“I agree that the Tibetans have their own culture, but I can’t agree with what people did. After a while, it was not about Tibetan freedom any more.”
He said that he was walking along Beijing East Road in the Tibetan quarter in Lhasa when he saw four Chinese military trucks pull up at the intersection with an alley leading to the Ramoche temple.
Mr Kenwood said that he saw someone throw a large stone at one of the trucks, smashing its windscreen, and then about 30-40 paramilitary police armed with riot shields and batons jumping out of another truck.
They blocked off the entrance to the alleyway, but were soon surrounded by a large crowd of Tibetans who began pelting them with stones, he said.
After a few minutes two or three of the younger Tibetans rushed at the Chinese police and they fled down the alleyway towards the Ramoche temple, he said. The crowd followed but soon turned back and began attacking Chinese shops and passers-by on Beijing East Road.
He said that he saw at least five Chinese people being attacked by the crowd, including a motorcyclist in his 20s who he thought was beaten to death. “They got him in the head with a large piece of sidewalk,” he said. “He was down on the ground and he was not moving.”
Mr Kenwood added that he spent the weekend confined to the Yak Hotel on Beijing East Road, from where he heard gunfire and teargas canisters and saw armoured personnel carriers moving through the streets.
As he left Lhasa yesterday most schools, shops and other businesses had reopened and Tibetans and Chinese were moving around the city, he said.
Claude Balsiger, a 25-year-old backpacker from Switzerland who arrived in Lhasa on March 8 and flew to Kathmandu yesterday gave a similar account of the violence.
He described seeing the mob beating an old Chinese man on a bicycle. “They were howling like wolves,” he said. “That’s the point when it went insane. They started attacking anything and anyone that looked Chinese.”
The Times, AFP