Tibetan monks disrupt media tour in north-west China

(dpa) - Dozens of Tibetan monks disrupted a Chinese government tour of their monastery for foreign journalists on Wednesday, supporting the exiled Dalai Lama and saying they wanted "cultural freedom," one of the journalists said.

Some 15 to 20 monks began the protest and were joined by up to 40 others as they surrounded the journalists inside the Labrang monastery in the north-western province of Gansu, Johnny Erling, the Beijing correspondent of German newspaper Die Welt, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by telephone.

The tour was the second organized for journalists by the Chinese foreign ministry to Tibetan areas, which were largely closed off after pro-independence protests and rioting erupted in dozens of areas over the past month.

The Labrang monks held up several Tibetan flags, which are illegal in China, and complained in Chinese about the suppression of their culture by the government, Erling said.

They encircled the 11 journalists and told them they wanted "cultural freedom" and backed the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's highest leader, who has been the target of an intensified propaganda campaign by the Chinese government in recent weeks.

Elder monks ushered away the protestors as officials moved on the journalists to continue their tour, and there was no violence, Erling said.

The official Xinhua news agency also reported the incident, saying the "coverage by overseas reporters on the riots" in the area around Labrang was interrupted but soon resumed.

Monks disrupted a similar media tour by 12 foreign journalists late last month to Lhasa, the capital of China's Tibet Autonomous Region, where protests that began on March 10 escalated into serious rioting on March 14.

The Chinese government has said 19 people were killed in the violence in Lhasa but the Tibetan government-in-exile said about 140 people were killed, most of them Tibetans shot by Chinese police.

The Tibet Autonomous Region is the only area of China for which all foreigners, including journalists, need special permits.

Permits are not needed for Labrang and other Tibetan areas outside the Autonomous Region, but police sealed off many areas where protests took place.

Several journalists who went on the Lhasa tour have been harassed and received threats from Chinese citizens, who accused them of biased reporting, after their details were posted on Chinese websites.

Some Tibetans advise foreign journalists not to take part in such government-organized trips.

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