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Police Attack Tibetan Small-Business Owners Near Sacred Lake

FILE - A yak waits for tourists at Qinghai Lake, or Lake Tsongon, in Qinghai province, western China, Sept. 13, 2005. The lake is known for being the largest inland saltwater lake in the country.

Tibetan nomads protesting the forced closure of their businesses were beaten by police Thursday near Lake Tsongon in the Chabcha (Tsolho) region of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province, China.

The incident followed a similar one June 2 in the neighboring nomadic village of Tanakma, where police demolished people's homes and businesses.

Several photographs and videos of Thursday's protest, which were posted on social media, show the protesters holding banners that read "we need to survive, we need to eat." In the footage, a man who appears to have suffered an injury to his face and head is visible as a county-level Communist Party leader named Dukjam orders the protesters to shut down their businesses.

Tibetan nomadic communities have thrived for centuries near the shores of Lake Tsongon, a body of saltwater also known as Lake Kokonor and "the blue lake." Many Tibetans consider the lake holy. A steady buildup of commerce along its shores has not only excluded most commercial participation by local Tibetans but has also driven their families farther from the area.

In 2015, when local Tibetans demanded the right to continue operating businesses near the lake, government officials responded by saying only businesses with a minimum 10 million yuan (about $1.5 million) to invest could secure permits to operate near the water. Such a demand excludes almost all local entrepreneurs.

As of late Thursday afternoon, exiled Tibetans told VOA that phone access to the region had been blocked.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Tibetan service.