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Tibet instability a rumor, communist governor says

March 26, 2009

The Associated Press
March 25, 2009

BEIJING (AP) -- Tibet's governor insisted
Thursday that his region is stable and will
remain so ahead of a sensitive anniversary
marking the Dalai Lama's flight into exile that
last year sparked anti-government protests and riots.

Qiangba Puncog, the regional governor, was quoted
as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency that
reports of recent instability in the Himalayan region were "pure rumor."

He did not specify to which reports he was referring.

Over the past month, overseas human rights groups
said defiant Buddhist monks took part in marches,
protests, and festival boycotts in ethnic Tibetan
areas of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces bordering Tibet.

Last week, a monk in Sichuan set himself on fire
and was shot, according to rights groups and
Xinhua. It was not immediately clear who shot
him. Rights groups said the self-immolation was a
protest against religious restrictions.

There have been no recent reports of protests or
renewed violence in Tibet itself.

Puncog said this year Tibet will have no "big
problems" with stability, and the Tibetan people
"have confidence in the (Communist) Party and the government."

Puncog's comments were impossible to confirm.
Access to Tibet has been severely restricted
since last year's deadly riots, with most
foreigners and overseas journalists barred from entering.

The unrest in Tibet last March -- the biggest
anti-government protests in the region in decades
-- prompted a military crackdown that saw the
arrest of alleged riot instigators and their sentencing in speedy trials.

Last year's protests started on March 10, the
anniversary of a 1959 Tibetan uprising that
failed to oust their Chinese rulers. The revolt
50 years ago ended with the Dalai Lama, the
Tibetan spiritual leader, fleeing into exile in India.

Puncog told Xinhua that last year's riots had a
huge impact on Tibet's tourism industry and,
while there have been improvements, it will be
"some time before a full recovery."

He said last month the regional economy was
expected to grow by 10 percent in 2009.

Economic growth in Tibet is a point of pride for
the central government, which offers it as proof of its concern for Tibetans.

This year, the government declared March 28 "Serf
Liberation Day" and said it would be an occasion
to celebrate the formation of the communist
government 50 years ago. Beijing maintains that
the former government led by the Dalai Lama was a
feudal system that exploited rural peasants.

Puncog was quoted as saying the day would be
marked in Beijing and the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa with "grand celebrations," but gave no details.

China says Tibet has always been part of its
territory, while many Tibetans say their land was
virtually independent for centuries before the
communist army took control in 1951.
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