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Peking takes more violent tack in dealing with Tibetan rebels

By firing on monks protesting China's rule of Tibet, police revealed how Peking has toughened its campaign to crush the Tibetan independence movement, Western diplomats said Sunday. The shooting Saturday of unarmed Buddhist monks marching beneath the outlawed Tibetan flag showed for the first time how police will carry out Peking's latest orders for harsh reprisals against rebels, the diplomats said.

About 50 police shot without warning at 30 monks demonstrating outside the holiest shrine of Tibetan Buddhism in central Lhasa, killing at least two of the monks, eyewitnesses said. Several monks and laymen were wounded, including a Dutch tourist, they said.

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The crackdown appeared to enforce the orders of Qiao Shi, a member of the Communist Party's standing committee and head of China's security apparatus, the diplomats said. During a visit to Tibet in July, Mr. Qiao told Lhasa officials to use ``merciless repression in handling anti-Chinese activists,'' Tibetan sources told Asia Watch, a human rights organization.

The rally was the third major clash between police and supporters of independence during the last 14 months. Dozens of Tibetans have been killed in the unrest, according to Asia Watch.

``The shooting seems to be a marked departure from how police have responded before,'' a Western diplomat said. ``In the past, they've reportedly fired in panic or as a last resort. But in this case, they reportedly shot without provocation.''

Peking has not abandoned its ``carrot-and-stick'' policy toward Tibet: While showing stiff intolerance toward the independence movement, it still tries to appease Tibetans with social-welfare programs and lenience toward activists who recant, according to diplomats.

However, the barrage Saturday may signal that Peking ``in the future will not allow activists to take to the streets without the expectation of facing a gun barrel,'' the diplomat said.

The shooting highlights a deadlock over proposed talks between Peking and the exiled Tibetan government. Peking has so far snubbed the proposal set forth by the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama has called on China to agree to an arrangement by which Tibetans govern themselves, while granting Peking primary control over Tibet's foreign affairs and defense. Peking has rejected the settlement as an attempt to ``split the motherland.''

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Peking asserts it has exercised sovereignty over Tibet since the 13th century, but Tibetans dispute the claim, noting how Tibet developed a distinct language and religion during centuries of self-government.

Asia Watch and another rights organization, Amnesty International, have repeatedly denounced China for abusing the human rights of Tibetans.

Tibetans ``continue to suffer discrimination, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and even torture,'' said an Asia Watch report released in February.

``The people of Tibet are still not free to practice their religion as they choose, nor to express their opinions on political issues,'' wrote Jack Greenberg, chairman of Asia Watch, in the report.

In a follow-up report in July, the group estimated that more than 50 people may have died during a March 5 melee involving as many as 10,000 Tibetans. China ``has demonstrated a continued unwillingness to acknowledge the human rights problem in Tibet, let alone address it,'' the organization said.

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