The Chinese authorities yesterday imposed a curfew on the cities of Lhasa and Shigatse to quell unrest among Tibetans angered by Peking's attempts to install a six-year-old boy as the reincarnation of a high Buddhist lama, according to Tibetan exile sources in India.
Tempa Tsering, a spokesman for the government-in-exile of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said that despite the curfew, protests by Tibetans erupted in Lhasa, Shigatse and Chambdo to protest against "this latest Chinese affront to the religious sentiments of the Tibetan people".
Chinese security forces in Tibet had been placed on alert, he added
Using mystical divinations, oracles and dreams in his search, the Dalai Lama announced in May that he had found a young nomad boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was the authentic reincarnation of the tenth Panchen Lama.
Although it had been the Tibetan tradition for centuries that the Dalai Lama recognise the Panchen Lama - the country's second highest religious figure - the Chinese authorities denounced the exiled Dalai Lama's choice as "invalid".
Tibetan exile sources claim that the nomad child and his parents were seized and taken to Peking, where they were placed under house arrest.
China denied that the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama was in custody. "He is not missing, nor is he incarcerated," said a foreign ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang.
But he added, "We have no idea of the whereabouts of the soul boy designated by the Dalai Lama."
The last Panchen Lama, who died six years ago, stayed behind in Tibet when the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. Although many Tibetans at first denounced him as a Chinese stooge, the Panchen Lama spent the last 12 years of his life under house arrest for denouncing the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Tibetan exile sources claim the Chinese authorities in Lhasa are planning a purge of important Tibetan religious and political figures suspected of harbouring Tibetan nationalist sentiments.
Several senior monks in Shigatse, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, are said to have been arrested as "reactionaries" for allegedly collaborating with the Dalai Lama in the hunt for the young child.
It is the exiles' view that China wants to manipulate the selection of the next Panchen Lama to quash the Tibetans' devotion towards the Dalai Lama and his non-violent campaign to regain independence for Tibet.
The Chinese-imposed "soul boy" is the son of two Communist Party functionaries from the Nagchu district, and without the Dalai Lama's blessing few Tibetans are likely to revere him as the true Panchen Lama.