Fears and tears in holy plateau city

Updated: 2008-03-17 07:03

LHASA: Dense smoke blanketed the sky as burning cars emitted an irritating smell amid the wailing of bloodshed.

A Tibetan teacher said she couldn't believe her eyes.

"I've never seen such cruelty before. How can anyone do something like this?" asked Zhayung, who works at the No 1 primary school in Lhasa. Her voice was still shaky and her complexion tinged with fear and sheer shock.

The school she worked at was among a range of targets damaged by saboteurs in the Tibetan capital on Friday afternoon.

Vandals carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of inflammable liquids smashed windows, set fire to vehicles, shops and restaurants along their destructive path.

Some rioters wielded iron rods, wooden sticks and long knives, randomly assaulting passersby, sparing neither women nor children.

"Classes were cancelled," Zhayung said. "I managed to escape from the school and hide in the building across the street, but some of my colleagues were stranded in the school for the whole night until police came to their rescue."

For many Lhasa residents such as Zhayung, March 14 stopped being just another Friday - it was a day when the capital was left in chaos after an outburst of beatings, vandalism, looting and burning, which officials say was "masterminded by the Dalai clique".

The Tibet regional government said on Saturday at least 10 people were killed, including several from burns and gunshot wounds. Police managed to rescue more than 580 people, including three Japanese tourists, from attacks.

Sources told Xinhua that rioters had ransacked at least 100 shops. The four-storey Landun shopping mall in the old city center, which sold children clothes, was engulfed in flames sparked by the horde.

Its owner, Ye Danping, and her 20 Tibetan employees were lucky to survive after scrambling onto the roof of the building.

Nightmares

As tensions began to ease on Saturday, residents in the traditionally tranquil plateau city recalled the nightmares they went through.

Rawang, a Tibetan clothes vendor in downtown Lhasa, sighed at the dreary scene, once the site of bustling commerce. "It was once a shopping haven, but now it's all deserted, like a hell." His shop was burnt to the ground. "Losses were grave. These people were crazy," he said.

Tubdain, a local resident, said he saw a girl in red-clothing who appeared to be an ethnic Han chased and clubbed by six people on the Dosenge Road in the downtown area. "The mobs stoned her head and batted her knees with wooden clubs," said the 50-something Tubdain.

"Blood trickled down her face. She stumbled to the ground, crying and begging the rioters to let her go," he said. "They seemed like a bunch of insane people, growling, stabbing, smashing and burning. It was so hard to believe what I saw."

Jin Hong, a clerk with the Bank of China outlet on Lhasa's Beijing East Road, suffered a broken pelvis after jumping from the second-floor of the building while trying to protect a cash box.

"About 60 rioters, all young men and women, attacked the bank with rocks and axes and set fire to the building on Friday afternoon.

"I hid in the toilet with three colleagues, but the mobs thronged against the toilet door. I had to jump out of the window," she said.

Saved by Tibetan folks

In response the regional government imposed traffic bans and increased the police presence to ensure social security.

For the many ethnic Hans who were lucky enough to survive the disaster, they said it was the Tibetan folks who saved them.

Sun Pingjiang, an ethnic Han and owner of a Titan-styled accessories store near the Ramogia monastery, said he owed his life to an elderly Tibetan woman who saved him from bleeding to death.

"I was attacked by more than 30 people about my age when I was running from my store to my friend's. The mobs beat and stabbed me," said the 26-year-old.

"When I finally managed to run away, I stumbled along and knocked at every door I could for help. A Tibetan woman in a chessboard game room came to my rescue," he said. "She took me in and called the emergency number 120 when the streets calmed down," he said.

Sun is being treated for leg and back injuries at the General Hospital of Tibet Military Command.

During Friday's riot, many local Tibetans came to the help of ethnic Hans.

Ma Ruixia, a Han woman who owns clothes and souvenir shops on Barkor Street in the downtown, said her establishments were attacked twice by the mob. She survived with the help of her Tibetan landlord and neighbors.

"Around 2 pm, Friday, I heard people shouting in the yard that rioters were coming and we needed to take shelter," she recalled.

"My Tibetan neighbors faced up to the mob and pleaded with them not to ravage my stores," she said. "I really didn't know what was going on out there. It was horrible."

Ye, who came to Lhasa 15 years ago from coastal Zhejiang province, said she would stay on in Lhasa, because she took this place as her second hometown.

"I wish the government would properly handle the incident and make Lhasa a safe place again," she said.

Xinhua

(China Daily 03/17/2008 page3)