Tibet language protests spread in China: rights group

BEIJING — Protests by Tibetan students demanding the right to study in their language have spread to other areas of northwestern China, a London-based Tibet rights group said.

Thousands of middle school students had protested Tuesday in Qinghai province’s Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in anger at being forced to study in the Chinese language, Free Tibet said.

But the protests have since spread to two adjacent Tibetan prefectures in the remote region, it said in a statement Thursday.

About 2,000 students from four schools in the town of Chabcha in Tsolho prefecture marched on Wednesday to the local government building, chanting “We want freedom for the Tibetan language,” the group said.

They were later turned back by police and teachers, it said.

Students also protested on Thursday in the town of Dawu in the Golog Tibetan prefecture. Police responded by preventing local residents from going out into the streets, it said.

Local government officials in both areas denied any protests.

“We have had no protests here. The students are calm here,” said an official with the Gonghe county government in Tsolho, who identified himself only by his surname Li.

Local officials in China face pressure from their seniors to maintain stability and typically deny reports of unrest in their areas.

The protests were sparked by education reforms in Qinghai requiring all subjects to be taught in Mandarin and all textbooks to be printed in Chinese except for Tibetan-language and English classes, Free Tibet said.

“The use of Tibetan is being systematically wiped out as part of China’s strategy to cement its occupation of Tibet,” Free Tibet said earlier this week.

The area was the scene of violent anti-Chinese protests in March 2008 that started in Tibet’s capital Lhasa and spread to nearby regions with large Tibetan populations such as Qinghai.

While Qinghai officially lies outside the borders China has set for the Tibet region, much of it is part of the traditional Tibetan homeland.

Many Tibetans accuse China of a campaign to water down their culture in a bid to increase its control over the remote Himalayan region, where resentment against Chinese rule runs deep.

China has established “autonomous” regions for some of its dozens of ethnic groups but many members of those groups complain that policy is aimed at merely giving the appearance of autonomy while Chinese control remains tight.

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