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Tibet silent, shut-off on riot anniversary

March 15, 2009

Sat Mar 14, 2009 11:19am IST
 
By Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned the West not to "put its fingers into"
Tibet as the restive region, under heavy security and shut off from the
outside world, marked on Saturday the anniversary of last year's deadly
riots in Lhasa.

Officials in Beijing demanded an apology from France's AFP news agency,
saying it had mislabelled a picture of weapons displayed in an
exhibition on Tibet, according to a long article by the state-run Xinhua
news agency late on Friday.

The French news agency had already corrected the caption.

Relations between China and France have been testy since French
President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai
Lama, last year.

Rioting broke out in Lhasa on March 14 last year, following several days
of peaceful protests by monks, killing 19 people and sparking waves of
protests across Tibetan areas. Exile groups say more than 200 people
died in the crackdown.

Overseas activists planned to mark the anniversary with a demonstration
in New York, but the official Xinhua agency slammed Western critics of
China's rule as misguided do-gooders.

"They might as well bow their heads, mourn those who died in the Lhasa
riots last year, and think twice before putting their fingers into
something they are ignorant of again," Xinhua said in an
English-language opinion piece that appeared aimed at readers outside China.

Beijing has promised the region will be calm this year and President Hu
Jintao called for a "Great Wall" of stability there.

Tibet and ethnic Tibetan areas of surrounding provinces are under heavy
military presence and strictly off limits to foreign journalists and
even tourists. Armed police manning road-blocks turned back would-be
visitors.

A trickle of isolated protests in recent weeks, including a monk who set
himself on fire at the Kirti monastery in Western Sichuan, suggest
lingering discontent.

Many Tibetans did not celebrate their New Year in February, in silent
protest and mourning for those who died last year.

Lhasa residents reached by phone said the day was "like any other", but
declined to comment on the security situation, and local government
websites had no articles on the topic.

Chinese-language media largely ignored the anniversary on Saturday. The
previous day Xinhua reported on Tibetans who had provided free
vegetables to the Chinese army for years, and a call from President Hu
Jintao to build lasting peace in Tibet.

(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby)
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