March 20, 2008

BEIJING (AFP) — Thousands of soldiers were seen in Lhasa on Thursday amid reports of a huge military build-up, as the Dalai Lama expressed fears China’s crackdown on Tibetan protesters had caused many casualties.

Long military convoys were on the move in Tibet while troops also poured into nearby provinces, after a week of violent unrest against China’s rule of the Himalayan region, witnesses, activist groups and media reports said.

“We saw a big convoy of military vehicles with troops in the back,” German journalist Georg Blume said from the Tibetan capital Lhasa early Thursday.

“One convoy was about two kilometres (1.2 miles) long and contained about 200 trucks. Each had 30 soldiers on board so that’s about 6,000 military personnel in one convoy.”

Blume, who works for the German newspaper Die Zeit, and another witness in Lhasa said they had seen security forces going from one house to the next.

“There are lots of security forces on the streets. We can see Chinese security going door-to-door. It’s very tense,” an independent source in the city, who did want to be named for fear of retaliation, told AFP by phone.

A week of protests against China’s 57-year rule of Tibet erupted into rioting in Lhasa last Friday. Demonstrations have since spilled over into nearby Chinese provinces with sizeable ethnic Tibetan populations.

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