Protests broke out in at least two Tibetan-populated Chinese towns of Gansu province this week as middle-school students took to the streets to mark the anniversary of the large-scale protests that were held two years ago.
The protests took place despite tight security in Tibetan-populated areas ahead of the March 14 anniversary, the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post reported on Friday. At least 20 slogan-chanting students of Machu Tibetan Secondary School in Machu county marched to the government headquarters on Sunday. The Gansu province is located in the northwest of China and has Tibetan settlers.
The students waved snow lion flags as they protested. The flag is used by the Tibetan government in exile in India but is banned by mainland authorities, a local was quoted as saying by the Post. "They chanted slogans in Tibetan... and two of them also waved a banner with Tibetan characters," he said.
The students' protests, which started from their school at nearly 1 pm, drew the attention of crowds on the streets and many non- Tibetan vendors and businessmen closed their shops. "The students were tailed by police cars. But they just followed, they didn't do anything. Many shops are still closed today as some people are still worried by protests," said a local.
The students shouted slogans decrying the lack of freedom and calling for Tibetan independence. The protest was joined by 500 to 600 other Tibetans, Radio Free Asia quoted a resident of Machu town as saying.
The report said at least 40 people were detained by the police on Sunday, prompting a fresh round of protests, as hundreds of Tibetans demanded the release of the detainees. The man, who witnessed the protest, said security had tightened up since, with almost all the county's police officers patrolling the streets.
The Machu police and secondary school refused to comment on Thursday on the protests, the report said. Some reports said a similar protest led by Tibetan teenagers broke out in nearby Hezuo, where least 20 people were reportedly taken in custody by the police on Wednesday.
Protest marches by Tibetans has become a norm around this period, to mark the pro-independence unrest in 2008 in Tibetan Capital Lhasa, which claimed hundreds of lives and prompted international criticism of China's Tibet policies that later turned into calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
The Post report also quoted a Tibetan tour guide in Lhasa as saying that foreign tourists had been barred from entering Tibet this month and security in the city had been boosted in view of the anniversary.
Beijing has adopted a carrot-and-stick policy to tackle the Tibet issue. While keeping a tight lid on the security situation, Beijing is also investing heavily in the development of Tibet. At a high-level meeting this year to discuss Beijing's development plans for Tibet in the next decade, the central government renewed its pledge of more investment in the autonomous region and other Tibetan-populated areas, the Post reported.