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China Says Tibetan Monks Involved in Protest in Front of Foreign Journalists Will Not Be Punished


China says it will not punish the outspoken monks who told a group of foreign reporters on an official tour of Lhasa that there is no religious freedom in Tibet. However, officials acknowledge they are not allowing any of the monks at Jokhang Temple to leave the premises. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Following two weeks of unrest in Tibet and other Tibetan areas in western China, the Chinese government is seeking to reassure the world that it is not cracking down hard on demonstrators.

Beijing has taken a group of foreign diplomats to Tibet, including officials from the United States, Australia and Japan.

Another government effort has been to escort a small group of foreign journalists to Tibet to see the debris left over from a violent riot in Lhasa earlier this month.

This official trip was disrupted Thursday by a group of monks at Jokhang Temple, who told reporters the Chinese government's version of events is not true. The monks also rejected Beijing's claims that Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, organized the protests.

Official Chinese media Friday quoted the vice chairman of the Tibet government, Baima Chilin, as saying the monks distorted the facts and are trying to mislead world opinion.

He gave assurances that the monks involved in the emotional outburst would not be harmed or taken into detention.

At the same time, he says authorities are not allowing any of Jokhang's 117 monks to leave the temple because some of them are under investigation for instigating the recent Lhasa violence.

Chinese officials have said the unrest in Lhasa threatened state security and was especially aimed at undermining the Olympic Games, which Beijing will host in August.

One immediate focus is the Olympic torch relay, which is set to pass through Tibet in June.

Jiang Xiaoyu, from the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, recently told journalists the Tibetan leg of the relay will proceed as scheduled.

He says Chinese authorities have evaluated the risks and have come up with contingency plans against what he called all "eventualities," which he says includes bad weather.

The highlight of the relay will be Chinese plans to bring the Olympic flame to the top of Mount Everest. The Chinese side of the world's tallest mountain lies in Tibet.

The Olympic flame arrives in Beijing from Greece on Monday. The torch will first travel around the world. International activist groups have threatened to hold protests along the relay route.

The flame returns to China in May. It will make brief stops in every part of the country, before ending the journey in Beijing in August, just before the games begin.