Pupils lead Tibet protests

Thousands of Tibetan schoolchildren have taken to the streets in western China to protest against being forced to take lessons in Mandarin Chinese, a move they say is an attempt to stifle their way of life.

The protests were sparked by Chinese educational reforms in the region, which stipulate that all subjects will be taught in Mandarin, and that textbooks will also be printed in Chinese.

Many Tibetans accuse China of a concerted effort to water down their culture and of increasing its control over the remote Himalayan enclave, where there is widespread resentment of China's rule despite major investment by the Chinese authorities.

"We want equality of nationality, we want equality of culture," up to 9,000 students chanted in the town of Tongren in Qinghai province, the rights group Free Tibet said.

Similar reforms have already been implemented in other areas of the Tibetan plateau, including in primary schools. Free Tibet said the move is part of a systematic attempt to wipe out the use of Tibetan culture and to cement China's occupation.

China says it "peacefully liberated" Tibet in 1951, and that the region is, was and always will be Chinese. It has kept a tight grip on the Himalayan region.

"The Chinese are enforcing reforms, which remind me of the Cultural Revolution," a teacher in the area said in a statement issued by Free Tibet. "This reform is not only a threat to our mother-tongue, but is in direct violation of the Chinese constitution which is meant to protect our rights. For Tibetans the Chinese constitution is meaningless."

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