Troops flood Lhasa on protest deadline's eve

As many as 20,000 soldiers reportedly entered the Tibetan city Sunday.

For the few remaining foreigners in Tibet, most of Lhasa has become a no-go zone. Soldiers have filled the streets ahead of a deadline set by China for all demonstrators to turn themselves in by the end of Monday.

"They've absolutely locked the city," says Paul, a European backpacker who asked that his his full name not be used. "It's really massive. There are at least 30 soldiers on every intersection."

Paul, using skills he learned in the military, says he counted 100 to 120 trucks, each carrying 35 soldiers, in a single convoy moving west to east on Sunday morning. He estimated at least five convoys moving through the city, or 20,000 soldiers, who appear more professional than the security forces deployed Saturday. Hong Kong Cable TV has reported about 200 military vehicles driving into Lhasa's city center, each carrying 40 to 60 armed soldiers.

"Saturday, it was ridiculous. They looked like Boy Scouts in World War I uniforms with wooden sticks," says Paul. "The troops today have modern rifles and dress. They look much older and more experienced. It looks like they've been brought in from other places."

A group of backpackers has been moved from a budget hotel to a five-star resort, after rioting and looting destroyed much of Beijing Street, the city's main east-west thoroughfare. One of them counted at least 30 flipped cars on that road, seven buildings gutted by fire, and looting at half the stores.

The travelers had to go through four checkpoints. A Canadian who saw their van tried to jump in. "The soldiers trained their guns on him and almost shot him," says Paul.

The hotel, he adds, "turned [the Internet] off as soon as we arrived."

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