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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

On China's 60th anniversary, Tibet wants quiet

October 2, 2009

Thousands are expected at a government-led rally in Lhasa as Chinese
soldiers with tear gas patrol the streets in a bid to prevent a riot similar
to the one in March.
By Stephen Kurczy | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

September 30, 2009

Lhasa, Tibet - Tibetans are hoping the 60th anniversary of the People's
Republic of China will pass uneventfully, and Chinese police and military in
Tibet are on heightened alert to make sure that there will not be a repeat
of last year's deadly riots. While Thursday's celebrations will center on
Beijing, with the country's largest-ever military parade, thousands are also
expected to gather 2,500 miles away in Lhasa for a government-led rally in
front of the Potala Palace, the exiled Dalai Lama's former home.

Despite the government's investments in Tibet, including a recent
multi-million dollar renovation of Potala Palace, Tibetans interviewed in
the weeks leading up to the anniversary say China has done little to improve
their lives and that they resent Beijing's restrictions on freedom and
religion.

"On the outside it looks better, but on the inside it is not," a Tibetan
shop owner in the Himalayan capital said recently, referring to
infrastructure upgrades in the city. "They make some improvements, but still
we are not free."

'Social order' responsibility of armed police

The Dalai Lama has said the Chinese Communist Party has transformed Tibet
into a "hell on earth." This year, Tibet marked the 50th anniversary of its
failed 1959 uprising against China, only to have the federal government in
Beijing rename it "Serfs Emancipation Day."

Communist Party officials in Tibet have vowed that the October celebrations
will be free of dissent, though nationwide festivities are expected to
increase pressure on police to prevent protesters from speaking out.

In late August, the government passed the country's first law on the armed
police, giving the 660,000-strong People's Armed Police Force statutory
authority to respond to security emergencies and "take necessary measures to
dispel large assemblies of people that compromise social order," the
state-run news agency Xinhua announced.

"The armed police played a key role in handling the Lhasa riot last year and
the riot in Xinjiang last month," Liu Xirong, vice-chairman of the National
People's Congress (NPC) Law Committee, was quoted saying in the state-run
China Daily. "Based on that experience, we'd better make clear their
responsibility in similar incidents." As during previous periods of
potential unrest, foreigners have reportedly been banned from traveling to
Tibet from Sept. 22 through Oct. 8.

Soldiers on the rooftops

Camouflage-clad Chinese troops, armed with weapons loaded with tear gas and
rubber bullets, stand guard at every entrance to Lhasa's old town, one of
the few neighborhoods in central Lhasa still dominated by ethnic Tibetans.

While pilgrims circle the sacred Jokhang temple at the center of town,
chanting prayers and bowing to the ancient structure, the round helmets of
soldiers are visible on the surrounding rooftops.

Armored vehicles periodically roll along Lhasa's streets and groups of
soldiers, wearing facemasks and wielding riot shields, patrol the sidewalks
and alleys. They march in line and stop to demand that a tourist
photographing them erase his pictures. Soldiers and police officers operate
checkpoints along roads throughout the Tibet Autonomous Region, which covers
most of the Tibetan plateau in what is today western China.

Such heavy military presence began after the March 2008 riots, when monks
from around Tibet protested in Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of the
failed Tibetan uprising in 1959 and in the wake of international rallies in
support of Tibetan freedom in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. When
security forces suppressed those protests, Tibetans began rioting in the
streets, attacking ethnic Han Chinese civilians - who today outnumber
Tibetans in Lhasa's population - and burning shops and vehicles.

The government reported that 22 people died in the Lhasa violence, including
18 civilians, one police officer, and three rioters. Outside observers
placed the number of people killed between 100 and 218, according to the US
Department of State's annual country report on human rights. Thousands were
arrested and detained.

One Tibetan shopkeeper said two friends were imprisoned as police rounded up
political dissidents. "I am not as afraid of the police on the street as I
am of the secret police," the shopkeeper said. "They've been doing a lot of
cleaning up, which means people have gone missing."

Monks from Ganden Monastery, about 45 kilometers outside Lhasa, also
participated in the 2008 protest, and about 500 were defrocked in the
fallout. Several hundred soldiers and police are now permanently stationed
at Ganden, and a monk at the monastary says they eavesdrop on monks'
conversations.

Dark humor, and paranoia, in the monastaries

Tibetans, reticent to openly criticize Chinese for fear of retribution,
speak in hushed tones about the 2008 protest, and instead make jokes to
diffuse the tension.

"Why are the police here? Because they want to study the scriptures and
philosophy, of course," the monk at Ganden quipped.

In private conversations, Tibetans say they believe monks at many
monasteries around Tibet are actually undercover police sent by authorities
to search out Tibetan nationalists. Even at the Potala Palace, a UN World
Heritage Site and home to the Dalai Lama until 1959, many of the monks and
workers say that they think have been infiltrated by undercover Chinese
officials.

"If I go to Potala Palace, the monks there listen to what I tell the
tourists," said one government-approved tour guide. When tourists ask about
what happened in March 2008, the guide said that he and his colleagues "play
dumb."

China, however, maintains it is helping Tibet with its multi-million dollar
investments in infrastructure and culture. On Aug. 23, the government
announced it had completed a seven-year, $43.9-million renovation of Potala
Palace and Norbu Lingka, another former palace of the Dalai Lama.

But Tibetans say such investments don't make the government's restrictions
on religion and freedom more palatable. And while it may be possible to
visit the former reception area of the 14th Dalai Lama inside the palace,
locals decry the exile of Tibet's spiritual leader, who now lives in India.

On the day of the heavily guarded anniversary celebrations, a few Tibetans
will likely be selected by the government to stand beside Chinese leaders
and laud the country's accomplishments, a shop owner in Lhasa predicted.

Meanwhile, he said he and most other Tibetans will skip the celebrations and
instead "go to the temple and pray for peace."
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