China accuses Tibet activists of 'distorting' clashes

A monk meditates at a monastery in Sichuan province on 23 March 2008
Image caption,
A Tibetan monk meditates at a monastery in Sichuan province

China has accused Tibet activists of ''distorting truth'' over a clash in Sichuan province on Monday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said "overseas secessionist groups" trying to discredit the government would not succeed, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

One man was killed and nine, including five policemen, were injured, he added.

Rights groups said dozens of people were injured when Chinese security forces fired on Tibetan protesters.

The incident took place in the county of Draggo, known as Luhuo in Chinese. The area is a Tibetan-dominated part of western Sichuan, which borders China's official Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Foreign media, including the BBC, have been barred from the area, making events there difficult to verify.

'Stormed and smashed'

Mr Hong added that those who were hurt had been treated in hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

"At present, Luhuo County has been returned to order and local authorities have been conducting an investigation into the incident," he added.

According to Xinhua, dozens of people including monks ''stormed and smashed some stores along a main street and a police station''.

The agency said the "mob'', armed with knives, threw stones at police officers and destroyed two police vehicles and two ambulances.

Activists said the protestors were demanding for freedom for Tibet when the violence broke out.

The London-based rights group Free Tibet quoted eyewitnesses as saying a large group of Tibetans marched on government offices, where the security forces opened fire.

The demonstration is said to have begun following the arrest of several people after pamphlets were distributed calling for Tibetan freedom.

Free Tibet quotes eyewitnesses as saying the man who was killed - named as Yonten, aged 49 - was shot in the head, and that more than 30 other demonstrators were injured by gunfire.

The self-declared Tibetan parliament-in-exile in India, which has also reported the unrest, says the protesters demanded the return of their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

Another report, from the International Campaign for Tibet, puts the death toll at three.

A monk at the Draggo Monastery in Luhuo told AFP news agency that between 1,000 and 2,000 armed police were standing guard.

"We are treating 32 injured people inside the monastery, and two of them are critical. One of them has a bullet in the head," the monk, who did not want to be identified, told AFP.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says the events appear to be the latest indication of serious unrest sweeping China's Tibetan areas.

Since March 2011, 16 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in what are described as protests at perceived cultural and religious repression under Chinese rule. Several of them are known to have died.

The authorities in Beijing have moved to suppress religious activism since riots in Tibet four years ago killed 19 people.

China's government has described the self-immolators as terrorists and has accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging their actions in order to put pressure on the authorities to make political concessions.

"The Chinese government will, as always, fight all crimes and be resolute in maintaining normal social order," said Mr Hong.