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Anger at Tibet celebrations

January 21, 2009

BY MARIANNE BARRIAUX
The Canberra Times
IN BEIJING
20/01/2009
 
China announced yesterday that Tibet would each year celebrate the freeing of slaves and a failed rebellion five decades ago, triggering immediate condemnation from Tibetan exiles.
 
The news came as China's communist leaders prepared for a series of sensitive Tibetan anniversaries, particularly in March when the 1959 uprising occurred and further riots erupted in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, last year. The Himalayan region's Parliament unanimously approved the motion to make every March 28 Serf Emancipation Day, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
 
''On March 28, 1959, Tibetan serfs and slaves, who accounted for more than 90 per cent of the region's population, were freed after the central government foiled an armed rebellion staged by the Dalai Lama and his supporters,'' Xinhua said.
 
The report claimed supporters of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, were mostly slave owners attempting to maintain serfdom, and that ordinary Tibetans had been brutally treated. It cited photos from a village museum near Lhasa that allegedly showed ''slaves'' with their eyes gouged out, fingers chopped off, noses cut and the tendons of their feet removed. But the announcement drew strong condemnation from the Tibetan government-in-exile, based in Dharamshala, India.
 
International relations secretary for the government-in-exile, Sonam Dagpo, said, ''They [the Chinese] are trying to celebrate it [March 28] as 'emancipation day', but it is the day the Chinese brought Tibetans into repression. If the Tibetans were really slaves, why would their descendants like me fight for freedom? We would never seek a revival of the old system if it were like that.''
 
China has ruled Tibet since 1951, after sending in troops to ''liberate'' the Himalayan region the previous year. It has long maintained that its rule ended a Buddhist theocracy that enslaved all but the religious elite, and that it allowed ordinary Tibetans to enjoy political autonomy.
 
However, many Tibetans insist they never wanted to be ruled by China, and they rose up on March 10, 1959, in a failed effort to kick the Chinese out. The uprising was quashed with deadly force the Tibetan government-in-exile says the Chinese army killed 87,000 people between March and October 1959 and led to the Dalai Lama fleeing his homeland. The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetans complain that the region's people have since suffered widespread political and religious repression under Chinese rule, which they say was the trigger for the riots in March last year. AFP
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