WASHINGTON--Tensions are running high in a town in an ethnically Tibetan region of China's northwestern province of Qinghai, after an argument between a Muslim restaurateur and a Tibetan customer sparked clashes involving hundreds of people and culminating in the siege of a local mosque, local residents and police said.
Hundreds of Tibetans who had already converged on the town of Tawo (in Chinese, Dawo), Golog prefecture, for the annual horse racing festival were called by cellphone following an argument between a man from Gade (in Chinese, Gande) county who said he found a human tooth in his companion's food at a Muslim restaurant.
The Tibetan eyewitness said it had taken the intervention of a local religious leader to calm the volatile Tibetan crowd, which had gone on to destroy a mosque.
"The police could not control the rioting masses," he said.
The police were using electric batons on Tibetans. Some police might have been hit by stones thrown by the rioting Tibetans. About six or seven police were hurt, and were taken to hospital.
"When [Tibetan monk] Chadrel Rinpoche appealed to the Tibetans to stop, the situation eased for a while. Then again on Aug. 7, 700 Tibetans destroyed a small mosque."
"Towards the evening there were over 300 Tibetans and about 200 Muslims gathered in the street close to the mosque. At that time about 30 police vehicles arrived and blocked the main entrances and ordered all the Muslims inside the mosque," the eyewitness said.
He said the Tibetans were angry following repeated health and hygiene problems at the restaurant in question, including an apparent mass food poisoning of 12 people.
"The Tibetans are not going to stay quiet unless things improve," he added.
"Most probably they found some unclean object which resembles a human tooth," an official who answered the phone at the police station in Machen (in Chinese, Maqin) county where Tawo is situated, told RFA's Tibetan service.
"At this point it is difficult to confirm whether it is true or false. However it is certain that some groups of people clashed, and many window panes of the restaurant were broken." said the official, who said police from Machen county and Golog town were investigating the incident.
An eyewitness to the Aug. 4 clashes said rioters were throwing stones, and several police officers were injured.
"Since it was a festival there were many Tibetans. Through cellphones, they called others and in all 300 Tibetans gathered in front of the restaurant and ransacked the restaurant," the man said.
"The police were using electric batons on Tibetans. Some police might have been hit by stones thrown by the rioting Tibetans. About six or seven police were hurt, and were taken to hospital. No Tibetans or local Muslims were hurt in the riots. None died in the clash," he added.
Police in the Machen county police station said tensions had subsided.
"There were no other incidents," a police officer who answered the phone said. "Some police were slightly injured by stones thrown by rioters at the windows, but no-one was severely injured. No Tibetans or Muslims were hurt in the incident," he added.
Aug. 1-15 marks a fortnight of horse-racing and other celebrations among Tibetans, when the local weather is favorable.
Last week, thousands of police and troops were dispatched to Lithang county, a neighboring region of Sichuan province, where hundreds of Tibetan nomads were camped outside local government offices after one of their number was detained for calling publicly for the return of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Original reporting in Amdo by Palden Gyal and Chakmo Tso. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Karma Dorjee and Dan Southerland.