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Major monastery reopens in Tibet

September 1, 2008

The Associated Press
August 29, 2008

BEIJING -- A major Buddhist monastery in Tibet reopened this week
five months after being shut by the authorities during
anti-government riots that rocked the region's capital, a staff
member said Friday.

The Drepung Monastery, on the outskirts of Lhasa, reopened to dozens
of visitors earlier this week and has been "fairly busy" since, said
a staff member who gave only his first name, Luobu. He said the
monastery would hold ceremonies Saturday as part of a larger
religious festival.

The 15th-century monastery had been closed to the public since March
14, when protests led by monks against Chinese rule turned violent
and businesses, shops and vehicles were looted and burned.

Since then, the Chinese authorities have sent investigative teams
into the monastery to determine which monks took part in the protests
and to carry out purges of suspected supporters of Tibetan independence.

Beijing banned foreign visitors and journalists from traveling to
Tibet for months after the riots.

China has said that 22 people died in the violence, but Tibetan
supporters have said that many times that number were killed in the
protests and the subsequent military crackdown.

Drepung was one of the three historic Buddhist monasteries in the
Tibetan capital where monks commemorated the March 10 anniversary of
a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. But after several days
of quiet protests, tensions exploded March 14 and the monasteries
were ringed by troops and monks were not allowed to leave.

The Lhasa protests and later sympathy demonstrations that spread
across a wide area of western China inhabited by Tibetans posed the
most significant challenge to Chinese rule in nearly two decades.

In 1989, similar mass demonstrations in Lhasa were also cut down by
military force.

China poured tens of thousands of troops into Tibet and surrounding
provinces to quash the demonstrations. Its harsh response brought
worldwide criticism, and several world leaders even threatened to
boycott the Beijing Olympics, which ended last Sunday.

China repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious
leader, and his followers of instigating the unrest and trying to
derail the games. Bowing to international pressure, Beijing agreed to
hold talks with the Dalai Lama's representatives two times after the violence.

However, Beijing has continued to vilify the exiled Tibetan leader,
most recently for a trip to France that ended last week. An editorial
by the official Xinhua News Agency excoriated him, saying, "The more
surprising the lies, the easier they are to expose."

During his trip, the Dalai Lama accused Chinese troops of firing at a
crowd of Tibetans in China last week, and said people may have been
killed during the incident.

In an interview with the newspaper Le Monde, he accused Beijing of
imposing a new, long-term "plan of brutal repression" and building
new military camps in Tibetan areas.

The Dalai Lama has said that despite China's harsh crackdown on the
March demonstrations, he still supports a solution of meaningful
autonomy for the Tibetan people under China's rule, not independence.

Catherine McLoughlin, one of the few foreign journalists allowed into
Tibet after the protests, wrote for the Far Eastern Economic Review
in late July that Drepung Monastery remained under heavy guard by
military police.

"Drepung, the largest Tibetan monastery and once home to as many as
10,000 monks, is now a re-education camp for monks involved in the
March 14 uprising," she wrote. As many as 1,000 monks inside are
being forced to undergo "patriotic education" in which they are
required to denounce the Dalai Lama and embrace Communist Party
directives, she wrote.

The Tibetan authorities said earlier this week that they would hold a
forum Saturday to seek suggestions for reviving the region's tourism.
Tourist arrivals in the first half of the year dropped by 69 percent
from the same period last year, with 340,000 visitors recorded.
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