LHASA, China A group of monks shouting there was no religious freedom disrupted a carefully orchestrated visit for foreign reporters to Tibet's capital Thursday, an embarrassment for China as it tried to show Lhasa was calm following deadly anti-government riots.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman later insisted that Tibetans had full rights and warned Europe not to interfere. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled spiritual leader, said he was in touch with "friends" about pursuing a dialogue with China, adding that Chinese authorities "must accept reality."
Officials arranged the trip for the reporters to showcase that Lhasa was at peace after the mid-March violence and a subsequent government crackdown shattered China's plans for a smooth run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
The outburst by a group of 30 monks in red robes came as the journalists, including an Associated Press reporter, were being shown around the Jokhang Temple one of Tibet's holiest shrines by government handlers in Lhasa.
"Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!" yelled one young Buddhist monk, who started to cry.
They also said the Dalai Lama had nothing to do with the riots by Tibetans in which buildings were torched and looted and ethnic Han Chinese were attacked. The government has said the March 14 riots were masterminded by "the Dalai clique," Beijing's term for the Dalai Lama and his supporters.
Government handlers shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away during the protest.
"They want us to curse the Dalai Lama and that is not right," one monk said during the 15-minute outburst.
"This had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama," said another. The Chinese government says 22 people died, while Tibetan exiles say the violence plus the harsh crackdown afterward have left nearly 140 people dead.
The rioting and four days of protests that preceded it were the worst anti-Chinese demonstrations in Lhasa in nearly two decades and they sparked protests in Tibetan areas across a vast portion of western China. The Chinese government has maintained its response was measured and comparable to what any responsible government would do when faced with civil unrest.
The monks, who first spoke Tibetan and then switched to Mandarin so the reporters could understand them, said they knew they would probably be arrested for their actions but were willing to accept that.
Later in the day, however, the China-installed vice governor of Tibet promised that the Jokhang monks would not be punished for their outburst. He said they previously had been confined to the monastery because some had taken part in the protests.
"We will never do anything to them. We will never detain anyone you met on the streets of Lhasa. I don't think any government would do such a thing," Baima Chilin told reporters.
The monks had rushed over to stop the reporters from being taken into an inner sanctum of the temple, saying they were upset that a government administrator was telling the reporters that Tibet had been part of China for centuries.
They said troops who had been guarding the temple since March 14 were removed the night before the visit by the reporters. One monk said they were upset by what he said were some monks planted in the monastery to talk to the journalists, calling them "not true believers but ... Communist Party members."
"They are all officials, they (the government) arranged for them to come in. And we aren't allowed to go out because they say we could destroy things but we never did anything," another monk said.
China rarely lets foreign reporters into Tibet under normal circumstances, so the media tour was meant to underscore the communist leadership's determination to contain any damage ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August that was supposed to celebrate China as a modern, rising power.
State television showed the visit by the reporters on its Thursday evening news, but did not show any of the protest at the Jokhang Temple.
"More than a dozen lamas stormed into a briefing by a temple administrator to cause chaos," the official Xinhua News Agency reported, adding, "The media tour soon resumed."
Later, the area around Jokhang was sealed off by People's Armed Police wearing helmets and carrying shields. They refused to say why they were there. The only people allowed to enter the area were those who live in the narrow lanes around the temple.
Most of the shops near the temple were also closed.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said at a news conference Thursday that various ethnic groups in Tibet are "safeguarding the national unity and oppose separatist activities."
Qin also warned Europe not to interfere with the situation in Tibet ahead of a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the 27-member European Union. Beijing hopes European countries will not send "erroneous messages" to the Dalai Lama, Qin said.
"I believe there are criminals, especially violent criminals, in the European countries. ... I hope that Europe will not adopt a double standard in this regard," Qin said.
Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama, speaking in New Delhi, said he was in touch with "friends" to get a dialogue going with Chinese officials.
"I think this is time the Chinese government and Chinese officials, I think, must accept the reality. I think that's important. Now in any case we are (in the) 21st century, pretending or lies cannot work," he said, speaking in New Delhi.
Reporters in Tibet who tried to break away from the group were subject to being followed on foot and by car. Only furtive conversations with Tibetans were possible.
"Ethnic unity? This was an ethnic conflict," said one middle-aged Tibetan in a shop selling yak butter in the Old City of Lhasa.
The reporters were taken to places that had been well publicized on state television as places the rioters had attacked. That included the Lhasa No. 2 Middle School near Ramoche, where protesters had hurled burning objects that set fire to one two-story building. Nobody was hurt at the school.
The principal, Deji Zhuoge, said she did not know why the school was attacked. She said 85 percent of the schools 620 students were Tibetan.
But the reporters were kept away from any potential hotspots, including the Ramoche monastery. Down a lane north of the Jokhang, Ramoche is where the violence started on March 14.
The government handlers also told the reporters they would not be able to see Drepung and Sera monasteries, where initial protests were launched March 10.
Reporters were shown a detention center that housed some of the rioters and an assistance center for those who lost homes or businesses in the violence.
At the assistance center, a man from who moved to Lhasa from central China to open a store last year said he and his wife were forced to jump from the second floor when a crowd set his small shop on fire during the rioting.
"We never thought this kind of thing would happen and leave us with nothing," Li Kunjian said.
Interviews at the detention center were closely monitored, as police acted as interpreters for Tibetan prisoners who spoke little Mandarin.
Luoya, who like many Tibetans uses just one name, admitted burning down a motorcycle shop in Dazhi county, just east of Lhasa.
"All my friends were setting fires so I joined them," the 25-year-old said. He was arrested about five days after the rioting, but he did not say how he was caught.
He said he hoped for greater leniency by talking to reporters.
Reporters spoke to Luoya through bars of his cell as a policeman stood behind him. The deputy head of the Lhasa Public Security Bureau was also in the room.When asked about relations between Tibetans and Chinese in Lhasa, Luoya said: "There are no relations."
Associated Press writers Henry Sanderson in Beijing and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.