Protests flared in a Tibetan area in China's southwestern Sichuan province at the weekend after a photo of the Dalai Lama and a huge Tibetan flag were removed from a building and thrown in the street, eyewitnesses said.
The protests by several hundred people in the Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county city in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture also called for the return of the Dalai Lama from exile and demanded freedom for Tibet.
Police tried to intervene but withdrew as the crowd swelled, according to Serthar Tsultrim Woeser, a native of Serthar and a member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile based in India's Dharamsala hill town.
"The detailed identifications of the protesters are not known, but the original protesters were all lay Tibetans," he told RFA, quoting reports from eyewitnesses.
The protests on Saturday came amid tensions following the self immolation of two more Tibetan monks—the fourth such burning protest in six months—from Sichuan's troubled Kirti Monastery last week.
The monastery has been besieged by Chinese security forces who had taken away more than 300 of its monks and detained them.
Saturday's incident sparked off at midday after someone hung a huge Tibetan flag and a photo of Dalai Lama on a four-storey building in Serthar.
After a while, the flag and the photo of Dalai Lama were pulled down and thrown in the street, triggering immediate protests from a group of Tibetans, Woeser said.
"They called for the return of Dalai Lama to Tibet and complained that the Tibetans don’t have freedom and demanded freedom. This group protested for about 15 minutes," he said.
"A group of about 30 police personnel arrived to intervene and they attempted to detain them. However, at that time more Tibetans gathered and the crowd grew in number. So the police could not detain the earlier protesters."
The Tibetan parliament-in-exile said in a statement that "over 200 Tibetans, including monks and laymen" took part in the "peaceful" protests in front of the main entrance of Serthar county at around 12:30 pm (local time).
Further details about the protest were not available, said the Central Tibetan Administration in a brief report on its website.
"During the widespread protests in Tibet in 2008, a series of peaceful demonstrations against the wrong policies of the Chinese government also occurred in Serthar county and were brutally suppressed by the Chinese security forces," it said
The Tibet Express, a Tibetan newspaper published in India, had also reported about the protests.
Eyewitnesses told Woeser that an unknown number of pamphlets with the photo of the Dalai Lama were distributed in Serthar on Sunday, calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and for freedom for Tibetans.
Woeser said such pamphlets had also been distributed last week in three sub-districts in Serthar.
No arrests had been reported so far, Woeser said.
Beijing has rejected calls from a U.N. human rights panel to provide information about the whereabouts of more than 300 of Kirti's monks who remain unaccounted for since the monastery was raided in April.
China’s Foreign Ministry said only that the monks are undergoing "legal education."
Chinese authorities frequently carry out "political re-education" of Tibetan monks, who are put under pressure to renounce their allegiance to the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle for more than five decades.
But in recent years he has taken steps to prepare Tibetans for governance without his leadership and to make the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala more democratic.
In May, he relinquished his political role as the leader of the government-in-exile, ending the 369-year old tradition of the Dalai Lamas holding both spiritual and political authority.
Now most of the administrative and political powers rest with an elected prime minister known as the Kalon Tripa—currently the 43-year-old Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-educated lawyer.
Reported by Chakmo Tso for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.