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Tibet Capital under tight guard for Olympic torch

June 23, 2008

By Chris Buckley
Reuters
June 20, 2008

LHASA, China (Reuters) - Tibet's capital Lhasa was under tight
security on Friday as it readied to host the Olympic Games torch in a
concerted display of China's hold over the restive region.

As a group of foreign journalists arrived in Lhasa to observe the
relay, police stood on guard every 200 metres. Trucks full of troops
and riot police could also be seen.

Slogans on billboards and village walls both welcomed the Olympics
and urged locals not to cause trouble for the torch relay that will
pass through Lhasa at 3,650 metres above sea level on Saturday before
strictly vetted crowds.

"Protect social order and stability," read one sign.

"Harmoniously greet the Olympic Games," read another.

The ancient centre of Tibetan Buddhist civilisation will be on show
over three months after anti-government protests and then deadly
anti-Chinese riots erupted there in March, sparking waves of protest
across Tibetan areas that were quelled only by a massive troop influx.

While authorities have spared no efforts to ensure fresh anti-China
gestures do not upset the Olympic flame's procession this time, the
stark security surrounding it will be a constant reminder of the
tensions left after the recent unrest.

China blamed the "clique" of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist
leader revered by most Tibetans, for instigating the unrest to upset
the Olympics in August. The Dalai has denied that claim and said he
supports the Games. But many exiled Tibetans oppose the Games, and
especially the Tibet torch relay.

"Since this is a proud moment for the people of China, the Dalai Lama
has appealed to Tibetans not to protest," Tenzin Taklha, a senior
aide to the Dalai Lama, said from Dharamsala, the home of Tibet's
government in exile.

Contrary to China's vows to allow unimpeded media access in the
lead-up to the Games, only a selected group of journalists
accompanied by officials was allowed to Lhasa for the relay, and the
city remains off bounds to free reporting.

Exiled Tibetans and international rights groups have denounced the
Tibet torch leg as a slap in the face that will only further alienate Tibetans.

"Lhasa is a city of fear and intimidation whose residents live under
constant surveillance," Phelim Kine of the New York-based advocacy
group Human Rights Watch said in an email.

"To run the torch through Lhasa under such conditions is a grotesque
insult to the Olympian movement's dedication to 'fundamental ethical
principles'."

Authorities have told Lhasa residents that they "are ready and
willing to 'severely punish' and 'give no indulgence'" to any
attempted disruption of the torch run, Kine said.

Many Chinese people, however, were outraged by the rioting in Lhasa
on March 14-15, and even more so by the subsequent protests against
their government's presence in Tibet that upset the Olympic torch
relay in Paris, London and San Francisco.

With patriotic sentiment fired up even more after the nation's
response to the devastating earthquake on May 12, many Chinese will
look to the Lhasa leg of the torch as a proud show of their nation's
role in modernising the mountain region.

(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar in New Delhi)
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