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Tibet presents China with major test ahead of Olympics

March 16, 2008

BEIJING 15 March 2008 (AFP) — With the world spotlight on China in the
coming months, the violence in Tibet has given Beijing its first major
human rights test in the run-up to the Olympics, observers say.

Protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa against Chinese rule led to
clashes between demonstrators and police Friday which left several
people dead, witnesses and officials said.

The crisis is the greatest challenge to Beijing's authority in the
region for nearly 20 years, when an uprising was brutally suppressed by
authorities, rights group have said.

But with just five months to go before the Olympics, China finds itself
under unprecedented international scrutiny over its treatment of its
citizens as it prepares to showcase itself to the world.

"We can say that the Olympic Games has come back to haunt them," said
Valarie Niquet, director of the French Institute in International
Relations based in Paris.

"In 2001, China was awarded the Games when all the world was talking
about China in extremely positive terms, for example its economic miracle.

"But the world has changed and from now on we expect more, but the
Chinese have not realised that the world is expecting a lot more of them."

Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China researcher for Amnesty International
based in London, said the Olympics has only stoked anger among many
Chinese citizens.

"The Chinese people have been struck by the incongruity between China
desperately seeking the kind of global validation from the Olympics,
without granting their citizens the kind of rights they deserve," she
told AFP.

"That incongruity has irked a lot of citizens, from peasants and ethnic
groups to lawyers."

She added that increased repression in recent years in an effort to
stifle any dissent had meant that for many citizens "the Olympics has
just made their lives much more miserable."

In the past week, China has received condemnation for its treatment of
Muslim minorities in its northwestern Xinjiang region and its detention
and imminent trial of Hu Jia, one of the country's most active human
rights campaigners.

An increasing list of criticisms include its incessant threatening of
Taiwan and its failure to support a swift move to democracy in Hong Kong.

The most high-profile condemnation has been China's support for the
Sudanese government, as around 200,000 people were killed in its western
Darfur region, the United Nations has said.

A US-based rights group said Friday China was the biggest supplier of
small arms to Sudan, adding Khartoum pays for the arms out of the
revenues it receives by selling oil to China.

Beijing itself says it has played a constructive role in mitigating the

Kate Saunders, from the International Campaign for Tibet, said China's
severe repression of rights in Tibet inevitably led to the recent violence.

"It shows the level of frustration that was building up. They seem to
have reached breaking point against the policies that the Chinese have
used in Tibet," she said.

"This is a response to very hostile statements against the Dalai Lama by
the Chinese and the economic marginalisation. The two have combined."

Friday's unrest followed three days of protests by hundreds of monks in
Lhasa, India and elsewhere around the world that marked the anniversary
of a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to
"liberate" the region from what it said was feudal rule.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled following the failed
uprising but tension and resentment has simmered ever since.
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