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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China's Tibetan areas not celebrating the new year

February 25, 2009

By ISOLDA MORILLO and AUDRA ANG – February 24, 2009

XIAHE, China (AP) — Only a handful of pilgrims gathered here last
weekend at the historic Labrang monastery, normally bustling before the
Tibetan New Year.

"There was a war in Lhasa this year. Lots of Tibetans were killed," one
resident murmured, referring to protests last March against Chinese rule
that broke out in the Tibetan capital and spread to other cities in
western China, including Xiahe. The unrest was the largest and most
sustained in decades.

"There is no new year festival for us," the woman said.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, called this week on Tibetans
to skip festivities surrounding the new year, which begins Wednesday,
saying they would be inappropriate after the Chinese government's
heavy-handed crackdown on the protests. Tibetans across the region say
they are still in mourning.

The Dalai Lama also denounced Chinese-backed celebration plans as
"provocations."

Adding to the tension — and authorities' tightening grip on large
swathes of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces with sizable Tibetan
communities — is the approaching 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan
uprising on March 10.

In March 1959, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India as Chinese troops
attacked Tibet and brought it directly under Communist rule.

Emotions have simmered since then over China's claims that Tibet has
always been part of its territory and its efforts to develop the area
benefit the local people. Many Tibetans, however, say the Himalayan
region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing's tight
control is draining them of their identity.

The Chinese government says 22 people died in last year's protests to
commemorate the 1959 uprising, but Tibetan rights advocates say many
more were killed, and that monks, nuns and villagers were beaten, fined
or jailed. State media say 76 people have been sentenced and more than
950 detained.

"This has not been a good year for the Tibetan people," said a
sun-wrinkled woman in the town of Zhuoni in Gansu province. "No mass
gatherings are allowed, people have been caught, things have been very
strained."

She added worriedly, "Am I allowed to say this?"

Last week, a Communist Party official in Tibet warned Buddhist clergy
against political activity ahead of this year's anniversary.

The Dalai Lama's message Tuesday called on Tibetans to skip the new
year's festivities and instead dedicate good deeds to victims of the
uprising.

"Since (Tibetans) faced immense difficulties and sufferings, the
occasion of this new year is certainly not a period when we can have the
usual celebrations and gaiety," he said.

State television has shown footage of dancers in bright, traditional
Tibetan garb performing under clear skies as the audience — with
crimson-robed monks in the front row — applauded. Women paraded with
trays of dumplings and fruit as red lanterns with the Chinese character
for "prosperity" bobbed in the breeze.

"The atmosphere welcoming the new year is deepening," a Chinese state
television anchor said earlier this week. "Everyone is praising their
happy lives."

A posting on government-run ChinaTibetNews.com described how leaders of
the local armed police visited monks at Drepung monastery in Lhasa "to
celebrate the holiday with them."

"High-profile celebration of the new year is part of this strategy to
show to the Tibetans, Chinese and the world that everything is normal in
China's Tibet," said Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet expert at London's
Westminster University.

Anand said the subdued new year is a way to act in solidarity with
Tibetans living abroad who are waging a campaign to boycott celebrations.

"Contrary to what the Chinese government has been saying, Tibetans in
many parts of China remain restive," he added.

Last week, Tibetan rights groups said, a Buddhist monk shouted slogans
outside a market in Lithang in Sichuan province, calling on people to
boycott the Tibetan new year and praising the Dalai Lama. Hundreds of
people gathered.

Paramilitary forces swooped in on the protest, and more than 20 people
were detained and several were badly beaten, the rights groups said.
They said a protest the next day drew up to 400 people, prompting troops
to attack and detain more than a dozen. The reports could not be
independently verified.

"Social order is good, and the relevant people in Tibet are celebrating
the new year," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters
Tuesday. "Tibet will make constant progress in the big family of the
motherland. We're fully confident in the future of Tibet."

Associated Press writer Audra Ang reported from Beijing.
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