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Dalai Lama award heightens tensions in Tibetan areas of China Security forces sent to put stop to celebrations in Gansu Province

November 8, 2007

Helsingin Sanomat
3.11.2007  
By Sami Sillanpää

Officials in China have used force to put down considerably daring expressions of support by the country's Tibetan population on behalf for the exiled leader, the
Dalai Lama.  Tensions were high on Friday in the Tibetan monastery city Xiahe just two weeks after hundreds of monks celebrated more openly than usual the
granting of a prize to the Dalai Lama by the US Congress.  "We felt so much joy in our hearts about the prize that we went to the streets to celebrate. We were
truly, truly, happy", said a Tibetan monk clad in a red robe in Xiahe, in the northern Chinese province of Gansu.   The events of recent weeks have brought tensions
that have been brewing between China's Tibetan minority and the country's government to the surface. The tense atmosphere could clearly be felt when Helsingin
Sanomat visited Xiahe, the most important centre of Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet itself.  About 1,000 monks live and study in the famous Labrang Monastery in
a magnificent mountain range at an elevation of about 3,000 metres in Xiahe.

Initial information on the clash in the remote mountain town began to filter out through messages sent by locals to the outside world.  Tibetans interviewed in Xiahe
did not want their names to be published, for fear of reactions by officials.  "I am sorry, I cannot say anything about our situation", said one monk and hurried away
to the labyrinthine pathways of the monastery.  The award granted to the Dalai Lama on October 17th angered the Chinese government, which accuses the Tibetan
leader of seeking independence for Tibet.

The conflict has intensified in recent months, as increasing numbers of foreign heads of state have received the Dalai Lama in spite of China's objections.  Local
sources in Xiahe the Tibetan population there learned about the award by reading on the Internet and listening to the short wave broadcasts of the Tibetan language
service of the Voice of America.  In defiance of the authorities, the monks and other Tibetans gathered on the evening of the day that the Dalai Lama received the
award on the street outside the monastery and set off firecrackers, which is the way that local people celebrate.  The government sent police, at least two lorries full
of paramilitary forces, and firefighters, say eyewitnesses.  "The Tibetans threw stones at the police. A big clash ensued", said one monk as he made preparations for
prayers in the sunlight in the decorated yard of the monastery.

The clash continued until two in the morning, according to eyewitnesses, and at least two monks and five police were injured. Finally the firefighters used their water
hoses to disperse the crowd. At least four monks were arrested, but they later were released.  Local people say that the clash was the most significant such event in
a long time.  The award given to the Dalai Lama heightened tensions between the government and the six-million Tibetans in other parts of China as well.  In the
Tibetan capital Lhasa armed police surrounded the Drepung Monastery, where monks had covered walls with white paint in honour of the Dalai Lama, according to
a recent report from the International Campaign for Tibet.  Public displays of celebration have been put down in the provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan as well, say
foreign organisations.

On Friday at the Labrang monastery cautious political statements could be heard when the monks held their afternoon moments of study.  "Dalai Lama" and "Tibet",
whispered several monks as they passed by en route to afternoon study.  Murmurs filled the room, whose walls were covered by colourful sheets, where monks
with shaven heads chanted while sitting cross-legged on the floor. They drank yak milk from copper cups and ran their bells.  "Of course we like the Dalai Lama
very much. We hope that he can come back", said one monk later behind a corner.  The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959. The Tibetans still see him as the religious
and political leader of their people, but the government of China will not allow expressions of support for him.  In Xiahe several monks say that they keep pictures of
the Dalai Lama in hiding in their rooms.

The police and local government of Xiahe would not return any phone calls on Friday.  Zhang, a merchant, who is a member of the local Han Chinese population,
accused the monks of "causing trouble".  "The police did not use guns and freed those who were arrested quickly, because they did not want to anger the Tibetans
any more", he said in a restaurant, while eating his noodles.  Zhang feels that the Tibetans are ungrateful for the achievements of the Chinese government in raising the
standard of living in the area.  With its approximately 30,000 residents, the city of Xiahe is clearly split into a Chinese and Tibetan part. Chinese hold the most
important posts in the local government. Most of the Tibetans live in the surrounding plateau, herding yaks.

Most of the Tibetan population in the area do not speak Chinese, and interaction between population groups is minimal.  A large number of Tibetan websites in
China were recently shut down.  Officials have also confiscated satellite dishes, which Tibetans have been keeping in defiance of bans, in order to watch foreign
news broadcasts, says the Free Tibet organisation. Media supervised by the Chinese government have not reported on the events.  As the sun sets behind the
mountaintops in Xiahe, the monks withdrew to their humble living quarters around the monastery. One monk in an alley expressed his opinion very simply, by saying
"Dalai Lama" and raising his thumb, underneath his robe.

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