Thousands of Tibetans protest in China, activists say

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama The protesters want the return from exile of the Dalai Lama

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Thousands of Tibetans have protested in western China, demanding independence and the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, activists say.

The protest took place as Chinese leaders hold the party congress where a change of leadership will be announced.

Activists say six Tibetans have set themselves on fire this week in protest at Beijing's rule.

Chinese officials say the Dalai Lama and his allies are to blame for the rise in self-immolations.

'Chaos'

Witnesses say that the protesters were mainly high school pupils who paraded through the town of Tongren.

"It was chaos this morning," a Tibetan witness told the AP news agency.

The Tibet Divide

  • China says Tibet has always been part of its territory
  • Tibet had long periods of autonomy
  • China launched a military assault in 1950
  • Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959
  • Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India
  • Dalai Lama now advocates a "middle way" with Beijing, seeking autonomy but not independence

Unverified film footage from one demonstration shows thousands of students surrounding what appears to be a government compound.

It is the latest in a wave of protests across China's Tibetan areas in recent days.

Delegates at the Communist Party congress in Beijing blamed the the Dalai Lama for the unrest, an accusation strongly denied by his supporters.

"We don't really welcome some people who think Tibet has many problems, human rights problems, this problem, or that problem," said Standing Committee on Tibet chairman Qiangba Puncog.

"They are so arrogant, they want to come to Tibet to conduct investigations.

"We don't think it is appropriate."

China has launched a security crackdown in areas affected by the protests and is stopping foreign journalists from reaching them.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says that with more than 60 cases of Tibetans setting themselves on fire since last year, it is clear there is serious unrest.

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