Beijing: Armed police stood guard on Thursday outside a Buddhist monastery in northwestern China ahead of an expected visit by the government-appointed Panchen Lama, witnesses and a rights group said.
The Panchen Lama -- the second highest Tibetan Buddhist leader -- was chosen by China in a 1995 ceremony overseen by the Communist Party, which had rejected a boy selected by the Dalai Lama, Tibet`s exiled spiritual leader.
Local residents contacted by telephone said armed police occupied the streets around the Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Gansu province, where deadly clashes broke out when monks protested Chinese rule in 2008.
The International Campaign for Tibet said Panchen Lama Gyaincain Norbu, who often extols Beijing`s rule over Tibet, was expected to visit Labrang in the next few days.
"Security has been stepped up in the Labrang area... and foreigners have been told to leave due to an anticipated visit by the Chinese government’s hand-picked Panchen Lama," the group said in a statement.
Labrang is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet, and the ICT said Norbu would not be welcomed there.
"There is no historical precedent for a Panchen Lama to be based at Labrang Monastery," the group`s statement said. "Monks fear more repression."
Gansu has a large population of ethnic Tibetans, many of whom accuse the government of trying to dilute their culture.
The owner of a hotel near the monastery said the streets were empty and police were enforcing a curfew until late afternoon.
"There are armed police on every street," he said over the telephone.
One local travel agent reached by phone said no trips to the monastery, a popular tourist destination, would be allowed until August 17, although another agent said that only foreign tourists were barred.
The violence at Labrang in April 2008 followed similar eruptions in Tibet`s capital Lhasa that March.
Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama picked by the Dalai Lama, has not been seen since 1995. He is believed to be under a form of house arrest.