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China Police Clash With Tibetans During Protests, At Least 30 Injured

GILLIAN WONG   01/24/12 11:27 PM ET   AP

BEIJING — Deadly clashes between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese security forces have spread to a second area in southwestern China, an overseas Tibetan activist group said Wednesday.

Two Tibetans were killed and several more were wounded Tuesday when security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Seda county in politically sensitive Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province, the group Free Tibet said. It quoted local sources as saying the area was under a curfew.

The reported violence comes as some 30 Tibetans who were wounded Monday when Chinese police fired into a crowd of protesters were sheltering in a monastery in neighboring Luhuo county, a Tibetan monk said. Military forces have surrounded the building, said the monk, who would not give his name out of fear of government retaliation.

The counties have been tense for some time, and at least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest in the past year. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Many Tibetans resent Beijing's heavy-handed rule and the large-scale migration of China's ethnic Han majority to the Himalayan region. While China claims Tibet has been under its rule for centuries, many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for most of that time.

"Chinese forces are responding with lethal force to Tibetans' ever-growing calls for freedom," Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said in a statement Wednesday.

A man who answered the telephone at the Seda county government office would not confirm or deny the group's account of Tuesday's violence. He would not give his name.

Calls to the county police offices rang unanswered Wednesday.

Chinese authorities have said Monday's unrest in Luhuo was caused by a "mob" and that overseas advocacy groups are twisting the truth about what happened in order to undermine the government. The government says order has been restored after one Tibetan died and four others were injured. It said five police were wounded.

Independent confirmation of the clashes is difficult due to a heavy security presence and lack of access to outsiders.

The United States, which will host Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House next month, has expressed grave concern at the reported violence.

U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero urged Beijing to address "counterproductive policies" in Tibetan areas that have created tensions and threatened Tibetans' religious, cultural and linguistic identity.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington has always been clear with China about its concerns for the human rights of Tibetans and others. She said the U.S. would be "just as clear" when Xi visits next month.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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Gillian Wong can be reached on http://twitter.com/gillianwong

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Filed by Eline Gordts  |