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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan New Year turns into silent battleground

February 2, 2009

Wed Jan 28, 2009 6:33pm EST
By Lucy Hornby

BEIJING, Jan 29 (Reuters) - As Chinese celebrate the beginning of the
Year of the Ox with fireworks and family feasts, a silent but stubborn
struggle is being waged over a similar Tibetan holiday.

In the fallout of a brief but widespread uprising by Tibetans last
March, the celebration of the Tibetan new year, or Losar, has taken on a
new sensitivity. It is also a sign that tensions between China and one
of its most distinct ethnic groups continue to simmer, despite months of
apparent calm.

The traditional Tibetan new year will fall during the new moon in
February this year, exactly one month after the Han Chinese celebration.
The Chinese Year of the Ox began on Monday.

This year, some Tibetans, including exiles and intellectuals, are
refraining from celebrating as a quiet protest gesture, and have urged
others to do the same in heated exchanges on the Internet. Meanwhile,
some communities that usually celebrate at the same time as Chinese have
delayed their holiday to coincide with the Tibetan calendar.

"I'm going home to visit my parents this year, since they are old. But
we won't have any outside celebrations, no firecrackers or anything,"
said a Tibetan peddler in Beijing whose hometown of Nagqu, north of
Lhasa, marks the new year next month.

"That's because of the (Sichuan) earthquake in May, and also because of
the March events."

Chinese authorities also seem concerned about the holiday.

In Xiahe, Gansu province, where monks at the influential Labrang
monastery were active in the March demonstrations, police informed hotel
owners that the town would be closed to foreigners for one month
beginning last Sunday, which was New Year's Eve according to the Chinese
calendar.

In Gardze, in the grasslands of Sichuan province, foreigners are welcome
but celebrations have been delayed from the usual Chinese new year
schedule, a guest-house owner said.

"We've cancelled the fireworks. Everything is delayed until the Tibetan
new year because we're all busy right now," he said.

In other communities, celebrations are normal, Western travellers and
Tibetans said.

In the mountains of Aba prefecture, also in Sichuan province, devotees
circled a mountain on Monday, New Year's Day, and planned performances
and worship at the monastery as usual.

"Of course we'll celebrate the new year, the Tibetan one. Everyone looks
forward to that," said another Tibetan in Beijing, regretting that he
won't make it home to his family in Nyingchi, east of Lhasa, next month.

(Editing by Dean Yates)
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