Tourists Speak of Shock and Fear at Tibet Riots

Tuesday, 25 March 2008 19:00 Jeremy Page Editorial Dept - Asia

Western tourists emerging from Tibet yesterday 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.

They said that the 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. He also said that he saw three boxes of stones but it was not clear who had provided them.

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. He added that there were very few young Tibetans on the streets after the midnight deadline on Monday for rioters to surrender.

“The Tibetans weren't smiling any more,” he said. “There were soldiers everywhere. I saw some older Tibetan ladies but there were fewer young guys wandering around.”

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.”

He also described seeing a Canadian tourist step in to rescue a young Chinese man being attacked by the crowd. “They were kicking him in the ribs and he was bleeding from the face,” he said. “But then a white man walked up ... helped him up from the ground. There was a crowd of Tibetans holding stones. He held the Chinese man close, waved his hand at the crowd and they let him lead the man to safety.”

Mr Balsiger said that Lhasa was very tense and locals were reporting as many as 100 people dead and 1,000 arrested as he left the city on Monday to spend the night at an airport hotel.

He said that there were military checkpoints every 10-15 metres, manned by young Chinese soldiers with bayonets fixed on their rifles. “They were really young and nervous. They always had their finger on the trigger - that's what made us really nervous.”

Stephen Thompson, 41, from New Zealand, said that he arrived at the Saikang Hotel just as the riot was starting and saw the mob smash the glass front of the building. “We didn't feel in danger but some people in the group were pretty emotional and one person was injured by a rock that hit them on the head,” he said.

Martin Camps, 55, from Germany, said that he had arrived with his wife on the train from Beijing on Friday, only to be told that he could not leave his hotel and that all attractions were shut. Hotel staff then told him to leave on Sunday, when he was driven to the airport hotel. “I think without China it would be much better there,” he said.

Article and Image provided by the Unity Party WA

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