Fires and gunfire broke out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa Friday morning, as protests launched by Buddhist monks earlier in the week escalated into violence.
The Times of London reports that at least nine people have been injured, and a market and several police cars have been set on fire.
One resident of the old city near the monastery told The Times: "It's very dangerous. Tibetans are fighting the Han people in the street outside I can't talk because I'm afraid."
The US Embassy said it had received firsthand reports of gunfire from American citizens in the city. Tourists have been ordered by Tibet officials not to leave their hotels.
At the Tibet Regional People's Hospital, staff said they were extremely busy with patients being admitted to the emergency room with various injuries.
The Han are China's majority ethnic group, making up over 90 percent of the population. They are a small minority in Tibet however, where Tibetans are the primary ethnic group.
"Apparently local people – lay people – got involved, and a police car was set on fire. This was followed by Tromsikhang Market being set on fire," she said from London.
Saunders said her organization had confirmed reports that some Tibetans were in the hospital with serious injuries, though she didn't know the nature of the injuries or how many people were being treated.
CNN also quoted a Han woman who said she had been beaten by a group of Tibetans. "I am now in hospital with a bandage on my head," she said. "The trains are closed and I am not sure if I can take a plane back, or if I can reach the airport. All is chaotic now."
The Associated Press writes that a Tibetan woman on the scene said that protesters had set fire to police cars as well, after police stopped a demonstration near a small temple.
"The monks are still protesting. Police and army cars were burned. There are people crying," said the woman. "Hundreds of people, including monks and civilians are in the protest." ...
Officials who answered phones at police and Communist Party offices in Tibet on Friday said they had no information about the violence and refused to comment.
The outbreak of violence Friday is just the latest escalation in the protests launched earlier this week by Tibetan monks. The Washington Post writes that Radio Free Asia, a US-supported news agency, reported that two monks attempted suicide on Thursday, while monks at Sera monastery began a hunger strike. The Post reports that Chinese officials accused the Dalai Lama of launching the protests.
In Beijing, Qin Gang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, blamed the protests on the Dalai Lama, calling them "a deliberate political plot of the Dalai Lama group to cause social unrest, separate Tibet from China and wreck the stable, harmonious and normal life of the Tibetan people."
Sonam Dagpo, secretary for information and international relations of the Dalai Lama's administration in Dharmsala, India, denied any involvement. "His holiness did not ask anyone to protest," he said.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that Buddhist monks launched the protests on Monday. Police arrested at least 50 monks on Monday, according to Radio Free Asia, and used tear gas to disperse the monks' peaceful protest on Tuesday. The Monitor writes that the monks' demonstrations have the locals worried for the safety of the monks.
Many Tibetans, perhaps the most devout Buddhists in Asia, said they feared monks would be beaten and jailed for years. They said police are stepping up intimidation and making it harder for Tibetans to get permission to become monks, study their own language, or gain passports to travel.
"Lhasa is not a free place like Beijing," said one local. "It is a police state. Spies are following you everywhere, on the street, on the phone, on the Internet. They can take you away and nobody knows when you'll come back. Sometimes people come back after 10 years. They can't even talk or think anymore." ...
With global attention focused on China ahead of the Beijing Olympics, many Tibetans say this year might be their best chance to protest human rights abuses in Tibet. "We are afraid of losing our culture," says a local. "Even some of the police who are arresting monks are Tibetan people."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that some 130 Tibetans living in exile in India have begun serving a two-week detention for a related protest in northern India Thursday. The exiles had planned to march to the Indian-Tibetan border to protest China's hosting of the Olympics, but were arrested by Indian officials who feared that the march would embarrass China.
The exiles are being kept in detention in a state-run hotel while authorities investigate the charges of threatening the "peace and tranquility" of the region, said Tenzin Palkyi, a march coordinator.
On Thursday, the Tibetans refused to sign statements pledging to stop their march, which would have allowed their immediate release, said Veena Rani, an official in the magistrate's office....
A decision on whether to free them or extend their custody will be made by the magistrate after two weeks, she said.