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Tibetan regions tense ahead of anniversaries

February 25, 2009

Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:13pm EST

By Royston Chan

TAGONG, China (Reuters) - Chinese police have discovered explosives
under a bridge in Tibet, sources said on Tuesday, as ethnic Tibetan
villages high in the grasslands of western China faced a tense
traditional New Year.

Almost a year after deadly riots erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa
and triggered unrest in Tibetan areas of neighboring provinces, Chinese
security forces remained on high alert a day before the holiday begins.

The heightened security comes ahead of another sensitive date -- the
50th anniversary of the exile of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai
Lama, who fled to India after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule
in 1959.

The Dalai Lama said in New Delhi on Tuesday China was poised to crack
down on any protests against Chinese rule around the New Year or
anniversary.

"Just as we had suspected, the 'strike hard' campaign has been
re-launched in Tibet and there is a heavy presence of armed security and
military forces in most of the cities all over Tibet," the Buddhist
leader said in a statement.

"In all the places those who dare to come out even with a slight hint of
their aspirations have to face torture and detention," he added.

"The intention and aim behind them are to subject the Tibetan people to
such a level of cruelty and harassment that they will not be able to
tolerate and thus be forced to remonstrate," he said.

"When this happens the authorities can then indulge in unprecedented and
unimaginable forceful clampdown."

After last year's unrest, thousands of Tibetans were rounded up. Exiled
Tibetan groups say many were beaten and some killed.

EXPLOSIVES

Police recently found several kilograms of explosives under a bridge in
Tibet's eastern Changdu, or Qamdo, prefecture, bordering Sichuan
Province, two sources said.

"Police are investigating," one source told Reuters. "No arrests have
been made." The source declined to be named for fear of reprisals. No
other details were available.

Calls to Qamdo government and police could not be connected. The Tibetan
propaganda office was also unavailable for comment.

The prefecture's Communist Party chief told officials to be vigilant
"against splittism," according to a notice on the local government's
website (www.changdu.gov.cn) on Tuesday.

In Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in Sichuan Province, a Reuters
reporter saw hundreds of anti-riot police taking part in drills in
barracks. They wore protective padding and wielded batons and sticks.
Some carried guns.

The reporter was told by an official from the local foreign affairs
office he should not venture further into the region because of
"landslides and cold weather."

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu played down
tensions.

"Now Tibet is stable and the social order is calm. Tibetans in areas
that celebrate the New Year at this time are going ahead with
celebrations," he told a regular news conference.

"The Dalai clique's attempt to spread rumors to destroy Tibet's
stability will fail."

Sunom Cherong, a 31-year-old Buddhist monk praying at a monastery in the
village of Tagong, said: "The atmosphere this year has been affected ...
because a lot of Tibetans are in jail and also because of these
incidents," said

China brands the Dalai Lama a separatist and accuses him of being behind
protests last year that disrupted the international Olympic torch relay.
The Dalai Lama denies the charges.

In Yajiang, a village perched on the vertigo-inducing road from Kangding
to Tibet, banners warn residents: "Say no to separatism, maintain
stability and promote development."

The village Internet cafe was empty and residents complained mobile
phone services had been cut.

Further along the road to Tibet in Lithang, Chinese forces detained up
to 24 Tibetans for taking to the streets shouting support for the Dalai
Lama, an overseas rights group said earlier this month. Local police
denied any knowledge.

The protests were sparked by the arrest of a Tibetan who called for a
boycott of New Year celebrations, the group said.

(Additional reporting by David Gray, Benjamin Lim, Chris Buckley and
Lucy Hornby; writing by Ian Ransom; editing by Andrew Roche)
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