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Warning rounds from Chinese police killed Tibetan protester

Chinese police fatally shot a Tibetan protester during a demonstration last week, state media reported Monday, saying the man was hit by stray warning rounds.

The incident is apparently the same one reported by U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia over the weekend when the broadcaster said at least four Tibetans were killed and 30 others wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators protesting the expansion of a gold mine they blamed for causing environmental damage.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that a 47-year-old Tibetan named Babo died after being hit "by a stray bullet when police fired warning shots with an anti-riot shotgun."

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It said the protest in Baiyu county in Sichuan province near the Tibetan border happened about two weeks ago when Babo led a group of about 30 villagers to protest the arrest of Fu Liang for illegally exploiting gold mines in the area.

The area is a deeply Buddhist region filled with monasteries and nunneries and is known for its strong Tibetan identity and has been at the centre of dissent for years. It saw some of the most violent protests in the spring of 2008 after anti-government riots in Tibet.

Radio Free Asia said the shooting happened when a group of Tibetans was protesting outside the Baiyu county offices. It said its information came from Tibetans living outside China who follow events inside the country.

It quoted them as saying the protesters were upset because heavy equipment brought in for the increased mining operations had damaged nearby farmland.

The Xinhua report quoted a local government spokesman as saying the villagers "attacked the police with knives, clubs and stones during the dispute," wounding 17 of them, four seriously.

It said police fired warning shots to stop the protest and later found Babo dead.

A pro-Tibetan independence website, Phayul.com, meanwhile, said three Tibetans had been killed and 30 others wounded when they were fired upon. The different death tolls could not be reconciled.

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