At least eight Tibetans were injured when Chinese police fired gunshots and used tear gas to disperse about 1,000 monks and nuns who had gathered in a restive county in Sichuan province at the weekend to mark the birthday of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, according to local residents and exile groups.
They said that policemen also beat some in the crowd and smashed the windows of vehicles used to ferry the monks and nuns to the lower slopes of a mountain regarded as sacred in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county on Saturday to commemorate the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday.
Among those who suffered gunshot wounds was the monk brother of nun Palden Choetso who self-immolated in 2011 in protest against Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas.
Hundreds of police forces surrounded the Tibetans from the Tawu Nyitso monastery and Gedhen Choeling nunnery as soon as they converged at the site of the Machen Pomra sacred mountain to mark the Dalai Lama's birthday and pay respect to Palden Choetso, a Tawu resident told RFA's Tibetan Service.
"They smashed doors and windows of our vehicles and started beating Tibetans gathered in the area and dispersed the Tibetans and started shooting at the crowd," the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Identified among those wounded were Jangchup Dorjee, the brother of Palden Choetso, Tsering Dhondup, the discipline master of Nyitso monastery, monks Lobsang Dorji, Tashi Sonam and Ugyen Tashi and a layperson, Nyendak.
Tashi Sonam and Ugyen Tashi were shot in the head and are in critical condition, reports said.
Some of the Chinese police also pelted the Tibetans with stones and went on a vehicles' smashing spree, said Lobsang Jingpa, a former Tibetan political prisoner living in the Indian hilltown of Dharamsala, citing local residents.
"When Jangchup Dorjee arrived at the site in a vehicle, the Chinese police attacked his vehicle with stones and smashed the doors and windows. Then the Chinese police shot him and the others," he said.
"All those who were injured from the shooting are receiving emergency treatment," Lobsang Jingpa said. "Several Tibetans who were at the site suffered injuries from the police beatings."
The situation particularly around the Nyatso monastery within the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is reported to be "very tense and critical,” he said.
The use of force by Chinese authorities on the unarmed Tibetans follows reports that there have been discussions in some areas about allowing Tibetans to worship the Dalai Lama as a religious leader.
Proposals to display portraits of the Dalai Lama, end denunciation of the Tibetan leader, and lessen police presence in monasteries were discussed at a series of meetings in Qinghai province in recent weeks although it is not known whether they will be implemented on an experimental basis or not, according to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), an advocacy group.
China's State Administration of Religious Affairs however denied that the government is changing its policy towards the Dalai Lama, according to a faxed statement to Reuters.
"Despite the intimidating presence of high numbers of armed troops, many Tibetans still gathered in various areas of Kham and Amdo to light incense, make offerings and pray to mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6," the ICT said in a statement.
The eastern regions of Kham and Amdo have been the scene of repeated self-immolations and other protests by Tibetans challenging Chinese rule.
ICT also reported that a number of Tibetans had been detained after the Tawu incident and that "at least 20 remain in custody."
Beijing considers the Dalai Lama, who fled China in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, a violent separatist but the spiritual leaders maintains he is merely seeking greater autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.
The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, celebrated his birthday in India's Karnataka state, which has the largest Tibetan population in the country.
He urged the people to "practice compassion" and not just think of themselves and said he was counting on young people to create a "happier" century, Agence France-Presse reported.
Education only has value "when you are compassionate towards others," he told some 40,000 Tibetans at Bylakuppe, 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Karnataka state capital Bangalore, where the largest camp of Tibetan exiles was set up in India in the early 1960s.
"The present-day generation can create better conditions and build a world where everyone can live in harmony and in a spirit of coexistence," the Dalai Lama said.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.