Defiant Buddhist monks banned from marking a key Tibetan new year prayer festival have marched in protest in south-west China.
The march was the latest resistance to Chinese rule before sensitive anniversaries in Tibet.
Tensions are high over harsh security measures set up before the new year, which began on February 25. The Monlam prayer festival started on Saturday and ends on March 11.
The usually merry atmosphere has been largely subdued since the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, said celebrations would be “inappropriate” after deadly anti-government riots in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, last March led to a crackdown on protesters throughout the region.
Also approaching is the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising that sent the Dalai Lama into exile.
Many Tibetans have reportedly heeded the call to boycott this year’s festivities.
The latest protest began Sunday morning – the second day of Monlam – when Chinese officials stopped the monks at the Sey monastery in Sichuan province as they gathered to pray, the International Campaign for Tibet said, citing unidentified sources. The monks left the prayer hall and started walking toward the main town, shouting to be allowed to pray, ICT said.
A few minutes later, armed security officials arrived and the monks returned to their lamasery, the Washington DC-based rights group said in a statement.
ICT’s sources said about 600 monks were involved in the latest protest, while another rights group, Students for a Free Tibet, said 50 monks took part.
“They are now surrounded by armed police personnel and are likely to be under lockdown after the protest,” ICT said.