- Wed, 02/08/2012 - 00:00
by: Michael Sainsbury, China correspondent
February 09, 2012 12:00AM
BEIJING has threatened to crack down on protesters as tensions continue to run high in remote Tibetan areas ahead of a global vigil in support of people recently killed by Chinese security forces.
Tibetan exiles say at least seven protesters have been killed in recent weeks after police fired on unarmed crowds in three separate incidents in the Tibetan area of western Sichuan province. "We believe that this is a case of a handful of criminals illegally gathering and smashing and looting," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Hei said in a routine briefing.
"The Chinese government will resolutely crack down on any attempt to incite violence or to disrupt national unity and integrity."
The protests were triggered by a spate of self-immolations - mainly by Buddhist monks and nuns protesting against Chinese rule. Last week, three herders were reported to have set themselves on fire and burned to death, taking the number of people who have performed similar acts to 19 since March last year.
Thousands gathered outside Chinese embassies, consulates and other places around the world yesterday to offer prayers for those killed in the recent state-sponsored violence.
In Australia, events were held by Tibetan communities and their Australian supporters in Sydney's Martin Place, Canberra, Newcastle and Hobart.
"Let's send a loud and clear message to the Chinese government that violence and killing of innocent Tibetans is unacceptable," Tibet's exiled Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay said.
Mr Sangay said last week that he was disturbed by the growing number of Chinese military personnel moving into Tibetan areas with truckloads of paramilitary forces and automatic machine guns.
Chinese officials have said the demonstrations were "well-planned beforehand" by "trained separatists" who tried to use violence against police.
But photographs released by Tibetan groups show Chinese soldiers beating unarmed people.
Mr Sangay and the US government have called for the Chinese government to allow independent observers into the restive areas .
Authorities are expected to keep tightening security in the lead-up to the February 22 Tibetan New Year and anniversary of Tibet-wide riots in 2008.
In a further tightening of control in its northern and western provinces, authorities in Xinjiang - where the local Uighur people violently clashed with Han Chinese in 2009 - have said they will recruit 8000 police officers to be deployed in all villages to "beef up security".