For the second time in less than a year, Buddhist monks are being shot down during peaceful protests in Asia. Last September, it was the monks in Burma (also known as Myanmar). Today, it's the Tibetan Buddhists in Lhasa, Tibet.
For the past few days, Tibet's monks have led peaceful protests in their ancient capital to mark the 49th anniversary of the unsuccessful 1959 anti-Chinese uprising. The earlier event ended with an iron-fisted crack down from Beijing, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India. An staggering 86,000 Tibetans were killed in the rebellion, including 200 of the Dalai Lama's bodyguards, who were lined up against a wall and publicly machine-gunned.
We can all hope that today's protests won't end so catastrophically. However, Radio Free Asia reports that Lhasa's three biggest monasteries have been sealed off by thousands of Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers. Tanks are patrolling the streets, and Chinese troops are firing tear gas at any Tibetans who gather out-of-doors. Monks have been beaten to the ground in front of horrified witnesses, and the Chinese soldiers and police are firing live ammunition at protestors. Eye-witnesses report that as many as 80 people have been shot by the Chinese, while at least four Tibetan monks have committed suicide by setting themselves on fire.
Wary of damaging its recently-improved relationship with Beijing, India has actively discouraged sympathetic protests in its major cities, and around the Dalai Lama's home-in-exile at Dharamsala.
The Tibetan protestors may be counting on Chinese restraint as Beijing gears up for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China seems to value control even more than its reputation, however, and the world is getting a clear view of Beijing's absolute intolerance of dissent. Little wonder, really, since current PRC President Hu Jintao rose to power as a result of his response to another uprising -- the 1989 Tibetan Uprising, which provided the model for the Tiananmen Square protests that same year.