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China warns Tibet clergy against demonstrations

February 19, 2009

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN – February 19, 2009

BEIJING (AP) — A Communist Party official in Tibet has warned Buddhist
clergy against political activity in the run-up to the first anniversary
of last year's massive anti-government protests.

The warning from Lobsang Gyaincain, published in the official Tibet
Daily on Thursday, followed a reported crackdown earlier this week on
Tibetan protesters in Lithang, a volatile traditionally Tibetan region
of Sichuan province. Those protesters had praised the exiled Dalai Lama
and called on Tibetans to abstain from celebrations of the Tibetan new
year to mark the anniversary of the demonstrations.

Lobsang Gyaincain, who is a member of the standing committee of the
regional Communist Party, also demanded that monks and nuns recognize
what he called the "reactionary nature" of the Dalai Lama clique, as
well as plots to use temples and clergy to carry out "infiltration and
disturbances," Tibet Daily reported.

Clergy must "refuse to take part in activities aimed at splitting the
motherland, and not take part in illegal marches, demonstrations and
other activities that disrupt social order," it quoted Lobsang Gyaincain
as telling a meeting of clergy on Wednesday.

The official also heads the regional party committee's United Front Work
Department, which is in charge of directly supervising Buddhist temples
and clergy.

Beijing regularly vilifies the 73-year-old Dalai Lama, who remains
widely popular among Tibetans 50 years after fleeing to India amid a
failed uprising against Chinese forces that entered the Himalayan
territory in 1950. China insists Tibet has been part of its territory
for four hundred years, although many Tibetans say they were effectively
an independent nation for much of that time.

Beijing accuses elements of the Dalai Lama's self-proclaimed government
in exile of organizing last year's March 14 riots in Tibet's capital,
Lhasa, something he and his officials have repeatedly denied.

Wednesday's meeting is a further sign of official nervousness ahead of
the protest anniversary, particularly as next month also marks 50 years
since the Dalai Lama's flight abroad.

On Sunday and Monday, paramilitary police wielding truncheons and rifle
butts swiftly broke up the protests in Lithang, a pair of Tibetan
advocacy groups said Wednesday. At least 21 people were detained and
troops were searching for others who might have joined in the
demonstrations, the groups said.

Lithang, like other Tibetan regions, has been practically sealed off
from the rest of China by road blocks and travel bans. Tibet's economy
and once-thriving tourist industry has taken a walloping since the Lhasa
riots, which sparked sympathy protests throughout the Tibetan world,
growing into the largest uprising against Chinese rule in nearly 50 years.

State media says 76 people have been sentenced and more than 950
detained in the crackdown. Beijing says 22 people died, but Tibetan
supporters say many times that number were killed in the protests and
subsequent military crackdown.
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