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Tibet officials vow tight security for Games torch

March 25, 2008

By Chris Buckley and Lindsay Beck
Monday, March 24, 2008; 8:11 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will impose strict security on the Olympic
Games torch relay through restive Tibet to Mount Everest, as the
government seeks to prevent any protests upsetting the symbolic display
of national unity.

The Olympic torch was lit in Greece on Monday, but unidentified
demonstrators tried to interrupt the ceremony while the Beijing Games
organizing chief was speaking, a sign of China's challenges to come as
the torch circles the globe.

Beijing has stepped up its drive to rally support for the Games in
response to international attention on Tibet. China blames the recent
unrest on the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader.

"The political monk's statement of supporting the Beijing Olympic Games
has been proven a lie; his followers boycotted the torch relay and
resorted to violence in Lhasa and elsewhere," the official Xinhua news
agency said of the Dalai Lama.

The government has also sought to contain dissent elsewhere.

On Monday, a Chinese court sentenced an unemployed factory worker who
called for human rights to take precedence over the Olympics to five
years in jail on charges of inciting subversion.

Yang Chunlin's sister said he was jailed because of essays he posted
online that were critical of China's parliament and the ruling Communist

The petition that mentioned the Olympics touched a nerve in Beijing
where officials hope the Games will showcase economic prosperity and
social unity.

China alleges the exiled Dalai Lama conspired to wreck the Games and
masterminded the wave of protests that began with peaceful rallies in
Tibet's capital Lhasa on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed
uprising against Chinese rule.

Five days later, the marches erupted into a riot in Lhasa that China
says killed 19.


The Tibetan government-in-exile in India raised its death toll in the
clashes to 130 on Monday. China has barred foreign journalists from
Tibet and surrounding areas, making independent verification of the
reports difficult.

Police spokeswoman Shan Huimin said five people had been detained in
Lhasa in relation to arson during the riot. She said three female
Tibetans in their twenties faced arson charges and had confessed their
crimes. In the case of the other two, the investigation was still
ongoing and the charges unspecified.

"These two arson cases once again show the March 14 incident was not a
peaceful demonstration or a peaceful protest. It was entirely a serious
violent incident," she told a news conference.

Since the Lhasa unrest, demonstrations have flared throughout ethnic
Tibetan parts of China, leading to violence.

The Dalai Lama rejects China's claim that he is behind the protests and
says he does not oppose Beijing's Games.

When the Olympic flame arrives in Beijing on March 31, before embarking
on its journey around the world, a second torch will be lit and taken to
Tibet for an attempt to take it to the top of Mount Everest, at 8,848
meters (29,030 ft) above sea level, on a day in May when the weather
looks best.

But the turmoil threatens to overshadow the torch's journey to the
world's highest peak.

A Tibet sports official told a newspaper that the Everest climb was
certain to go ahead under strict security.

"The region's torch relay leadership team will closely coordinate and
cooperate with all concerned units, taking very seriously and
cooperating with security and protection work, and strictly guarding
against disturbances and sabotage by the Dalai clique," the unnamed
official told the state-run Tibet Daily.

In a departure from the government line, Bao Tong, the most senior
Chinese official ousted over the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, said
the Dalai Lama was the "only Tibetan leader with the hope of presiding
over a reconciliation agreement."

"Only if the central (government) sits down for dialogue with the Dalai
Lama and shows great wisdom, great decisiveness and great boldness of
vision, the Lhasa incident can be handled well," Bao wrote in a
statement e-mailed to Reuters.


China has invested huge amounts of money and political capital to make
the 2008 Summer Olympics a showpiece of the country's prosperity and
confidence. It has warned critics and protesters not to disrupt the event.

But two overseas groups reported ongoing protests in Tibetan enclaves of
China over the weekend, contradicting government claims that the areas
have been quiet since last Thursday.

The Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said
hundreds of Tibetans staged a peaceful protest in Malho county of
Qinghai following a religious ceremony on Saturday. Sunday also saw
protests in the province, it said.

Monks and lay people held a march in southern Gansu, chanting slogans
for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, the Free Tibet Campaign
reported, citing a witness.

In Aba, an area of Sichuan where the government said last week police
opened fire on protesters, Xinhua reported schools were back in session
after a week's suspension due to the unrest, and were carrying out
"patriotic education activities."

(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing and Karolos
Grohmann in Athens; Editing by David Fogarty)
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