Rampaging Tibetan youths stoned and beat Chinese people in the Tibetan capital and set ablaze stores but now calm has returned after a military clampdown, say tourists emerging from the Himalayan region.
“It was an explosion of anger against the Chinese and Muslims by the Tibetans,” 19-year-old Canadian John Kenwood said, describing an orgy of violence that swept the ancient city of Lhasa.
Mr Kenwood and other tourists, who arrived by plane in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu yesterday, witnessed the unrest, which reached a climax on Friday when they said Han Chinese as well as Muslims were targeted.
They described scenes in which mobs relentlessly beat and kicked ethnic Han Chinese, whose influx into the region has been blamed by Tibetans for altering its unique culture and way of life.
Mr Kenwood said he saw four or five Tibetan men on Friday “mercilessly” stoning and kicking a Chinese motorcyclist.
“Eventually they got him on the ground, they were hitting him on the head with stones until he lost consciousness.
“I believe that young man was killed,” Mr Kenwood said, but added he could not be sure.
He said he saw no Tibetan deaths.
Tibet’s government-in-exile said yesterday that the “confirmed” Tibetan death toll from more than a week of unrest was 99.
China has said “13 innocent civilians” died and that it used no lethal force to subdue the rioting.
The Tibetans “were throwing stones at anything that drove by”, Mr Kenwood said.
“The young people were involved and the old people were supporting by screaming – howling like wolves. Everyone who looked Chinese was attacked,” said 25-year-old Swiss tourist Claude Balsiger.
“They attacked an old Chinese man on a bicycle. They hit his head really hard with stones (but) some old Tibetan people went into the crowd to make them stop,” he said.
Mr Kenwood recounted another brave rescue when a Chinese man was pleading for mercy from rock-wielding Tibetans.
“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.”
Reacting to the tourists’ accounts, Thubten Samphel, a spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, called the violence “very tragic”.
The Tibetans “have been told to keep their struggle non-violent,” he said.
The unrest began after Tibetans marked on March 10 the 49th anniversary of their failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Then, Tibet’s Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama trekked through the Himalayas and crossed into India, making Dharamshala a base after the revolt.
By last Saturday, Chinese security forces had locked down the Tibetan capital.
The Chinese military ordered tourists to stay in their hotels from where they said they could hear gunfire and tear gas shells exploding.
On Monday the tourists were allowed some movement but had to show their passports at frequent checkpoints.
“Shops were all burnt out – all the merchandise was on the street in a bonfire. Many buildings were gutted,” said Serge Lachapelle, a tourist from Montreal in Canada.
“The Muslim district was entirely destroyed – every store was destroyed,” said Mr Kenwood.
“I was able to go and eat in a restaurant (outside the hotel) this morning (yesterday). The Tibetans were not smiling any more,” he said.