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Chinese police open fire on unarmed Tibetans, rights groups say

BEIJING — Chinese police officers opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Tibetans who were celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in a volatile area of Sichuan province, injuring nine people, two of them critically, rights advocates reported this week. The shootings took place Saturday, but government restrictions on communications in the region prevented the news from immediately reaching outsiders.

The violence occurred as more than 500 people gathered for a picnic on the slopes of a mountain in the town of Tawu, or Daofu in Chinese, that is considered sacred by local residents.

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According to the International Campaign for Tibet, Radio Free Asia, and other groups, the crowd included Buddhist monks and nuns from nearby monasteries, but also scores of lay people who were celebrating the 78th birthday of the Dalai Lama, an event that has traditionally been banned by authorities.

Despite the prohibition on such gatherings, rights advocates say police often look the other way.

The weekend violence, coupled with recent statements by senior Chinese officials, suggests that Beijing has no intention of loosening the restrictions in Tibetan areas that many rights advocates say are fueling a wave of self-immolations.

On Tuesday, China’s top official in charge of ethnic minorities vowed to continue the Communist Party’s emphasis on social stability, which includes demonizing the Dalai Lama.

The statement, published by the official Xinhua news agency, seemed aimed at quashing recent speculation among some Tibetan exiles that authorities were preparing to experiment with a more relaxed approach to governance in the region.

The violence in Tawu began after dozens of police officers arrived at the scene of the birthday celebration and ordered participants to leave. After religious leaders tried to reason with the officers, witnesses said, there was a brief standoff that quickly escalated.

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