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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?"

Beijing steps up Tibet security

February 27, 2009

By Geoff Dyer in Beijing, Financial Times

Published: February 26 2009 02:00 | Last updated: February 26 2009 02:00

China has imposed a heavy police presence on areas celebrating the
Tibetan new year, which started yesterday and could be the first of
several flashpoints in the autonomous region during the next month.

The 15-day celebration, called Losar, is usually one of most festive
times for Tibetans, but this year there has been an underground campaign
to boycott celebrations in memory of those killed during the wave of
protests in the region last year.

Chinese officials have been worried about the potential for unrest round
other sensitive dates, including the 50th anniversary of the failed
Tibetan uprising against the Beijing government that led the Dalai Lama
to flee into exile on March 10 1959. Beijing has named March 28 "Serf
Emancipation Day", a new holiday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of
the official dissolution of the Tibetan government that was led by the
Dalai Lama.

Analysts say the pre-emptive security clampdown indicates Beijing's lack
of confidence that it can predict and prevent protests.

The Chinese authorities say they are responding to an increased risk of
crime in the region. There were reports yesterday that explosives had
been found under a bridge in Tibet.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the Dalai Lama said Tibetans should
not respond to the "provocation" of the security build-up.

The campaign to boycott the new year, which Tibetan activists describe
as civil -disobedience, has been building for several months. The
authorities have countered with aggressive propaganda efforts, including
a four-hour spectacle on Tibet television on Tuesday evening with 800
performers. The Xinhua news agency published a report yesterday
entitled: "Jubilant Tibetans embrace coming new year".

Diplomats and reporters who have recently visited Tibetan areas say
there is support for the boycott, although there is also plenty of
opposition, including from shops and other service businesses for whom
the holiday is a peak period.

The region last year witnessed the biggest outbreak of anti-Beijing
protests in several decades, with unrest spreading to more than 50 towns
in Tibet and Tibetan populated districts in the neighbouring provinces
of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. The unrest culminated in a riot in Lhasa
on March 14 when Han Chinese residents were targeted.

According to Beijing, 19 people, including a policeman, died in the
riot. Tibetan exiles and human rights groups say the death toll during
the protests was much larger.

The security build-up has been particularly intense in Lhasa, capital of
the Tibetan autonomous region. According to Human Rights Watch,
authorities have set up a detention centre near Lhasa and held several
thousand people for short periods.

For the past three weeks there have been reports of a heavy military
police presence in Xiahe, the Gansu province town that was the site of a
large protest last March, but residents yesterday said the town was not
closed off to foreign visitors. There have also been reports of
large-scale security measures in the Aba and Ganzi prefectures in Sichuan.
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