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Security forces patrol Tibetan town in NW China

February 9, 2009

Sat Feb 7, 2009 9:19am EST

By Nir Elias

XIAHE, China (Reuters) - Security forces put on a show of force in the
important Tibetan monastery town of Xiahe in the foothills of the
Tibetan plateau before a sensitive Tibetan anniversary.

March will mark the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama,
Tibet's highest religious leader, and the one-year anniversary of
protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa and in Tibetan communities across
the plateau.

Riot police marched through Xiahe's tense main street at regular
intervals on Saturday morning, while vehicles were stopped and checked
at military road blocks about 200 km (120 miles) from Lanzhou, the
capital of Gansu province.

"Last year, because of the Olympics, people were confident China could
not be too harsh with us. But this year, nothing much will happen
because people are much more afraid," a monk told Reuters.

Hundreds of monks at Xiahe's Labrang monastery took to the streets last
March, calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and greater freedoms for

"China is like our father. When we do something wrong, he beats us," a
second monk said.

That monk said the security presence in the monastery was light during
the day, but that security forces conducted raids and rounded up monks
for questioning at night.

Xiahe has been closed to foreign visitors since Jan 25, the day before
the Chinese New Year Lunar began, although Tibetan pilgrims were allowed
in. A sharp increase in security patrols on Saturday may be to prevent
any incident during the unveiling of a giant Buddhist thangka, or sacred
cloth, to mark the middle of the first month.

Xiahe and some other ethnically Tibetan areas celebrate the New Year, or
Losar, at the same time as ethnic Han Chinese, while many other Tibetans
will celebrate it at the next new moon, in late February.

Some Tibetans have advocated not celebrating at all this year in order
to commemorate last year's demonstrations and crackdown.

A week of demonstrations in Lhasa turned deadly on March 14, 2008, when
a Tibetan crowd burned shops belonging to Han Chinese and Hui Muslims,
killing 19 people.

That triggered demonstrations and marches throughout ethnically Tibetan
regions, which were quelled after a few days by Chinese police and
paramilitary troops.

In Xiahe last year crowds threw stones at government buildings, while
elsewhere in Gansu Province demonstrators raised a banned Tibetan flag
and burned police and government offices.

Thousands of Tibetans were rounded up in the following crackdown across
the region last year. Exile Tibetan groups allege many were beaten and
some killed in the crackdown.

(Writing by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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