China held anti-terrorism exercises in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) amid reports of unrest, with two self-immolation protests and clashes with police forces in Tibetan areas reported by overseas groups on Tuesday.

Officials said the exercises were held at the Lhasa railway station and the Gonggar airport in the TAR capital on Monday. Authorities cited intelligence reports suggesting that “hostile forces” would plan activities ahead of the crucial 18th Party Congress, scheduled for October or November.

The exercises were held amid reports of new self-immolations, with four protests reported in the past week in the predominantly Tibetan Aba prefecture in southwestern Sichuan province, which borders TAR.

Aba has been at the centre of the wave of at least 48 self-immolations by monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans reported since March last year.

Monks formerly at the influential Kirti monastery in Aba who are now in India identified Monday’s protesters as a 21-year-old former monk named Tashi; and a 20-year-old monk called Langtag. Both set themselves on fire on a main road through Aba — now called Hero’s Road — on which many of the protests have occurred.

Both monks were taken away by security forces. While Tashi is undergoing treatment for severe burns, the whereabouts and condition of Langtag was unclear, monks said. Overseas groups also reported clashes with security forces following the immolations, but local officials told news agencies that there were no such incidents.

Tighter security

In recent weeks, authorities have boosted the deployment of security forces in Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, where most of the self-immolations have taken place. Security has also been tightened in Lhasa, with checkpoints disallowing non-residents from entering the city, according to locals.

Local officials have accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the incidents — a charge denied by the revered exiled religious leader — and have even described them as acts of terrorism. The Dalai Lama has blamed the government’s restrictive religious policies for triggering the protests.

The antiterrorism exercise held on Monday in Lhasa was named “Plateau Guards 2012”. The Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper reported that security forces had simulated “twin terrorist attacks”, in which attackers had hijacked an aircraft and a train. Similar drills were held last summer.

Xiong Kunxin, a professor with the Minzu University or University of Minorities, told the newspaper that the drills were being held in preparation for the Party Congress. “Hostile forces will consider the 18th National Congress a time to sabotage the security and social stability of the country,” he said, adding that “outside infiltrators and some people incited by the Dalai clique may launch terrorist attacks in the region.”

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