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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China's leaders make emphatic response after quake near Tibetan border

April 16, 2010

In Qinghai province's Yushu county, where a 6.9 quake has killed at
least 617 people and injured more than 9,000, Premier Wen Jiabao pledges
to 'build a good life for all ethnic people.'

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times
11:25 AM PDT, April 15, 2010
Reporting from Beijing

President Hu Jintao cut short his trip to South America on Thursday and
Premier Wen Jiabao flew to a far-flung corner of the Tibetan plateau,
pulling out all stops to portray a compassionate Chinese government
doing all it can to help the victims of Wednesday's 6.9 magnitude
earthquake.

At last count, the quake killed 617 people, injured 9,110 and made more
than 100,000 homeless, the majority of them Tibetan. The earthquake took
place in a politically tense region where many Tibetans have long chafed
under Chinese rule.

After flying Thursday night to Qinghai province's Yushu county, close to
the epicenter, Wen climbed atop a pile of rubble and pledged to "build a
good life for all ethnic people after the earthquake." The speech was
translated simultaneously into Tibetan.

Almost since the moment the quake struck at 7:49 a.m. Wednesday, Chinese
state television has been filled with images of hero Chinese soldiers
and paramilitary working hand-in-hand with local Tibetans - some of them
Buddhist monks - in common cause to rescue victims of the earthquake.

"I think the Chinese already are looking at the larger implications of
this earthquake. They see it as an opportunity for the Communist Party
to win sympathy through its generosity," Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar
at New York's Columbia University, said Thursday. He says he believes
that the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, may see it "as an
opportunity to find some common ground."

At a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, Zou Ming, disaster relief
director for the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said that there were nearly
10,000 rescuers on the scene in Yushu county, but that supplies remained
scarce.

"What we urgently need are tents, quilts, cotton-padded clothing and
instant food," he said. "The most urgently needed material will be sent
by air, the rest by train or road."

Zou said that foreign aid workers would not be brought in to the
earthquake zone because of the difficult access.

The earthquake -- originally estimated at magnitude 7.1 -- has raised
great logistical challenges because Yushu county is 500 miles from the
nearest major airport, through winding mountain passes at elevations of
more than 12,000 feet.

"Because of the high elevation, many members of the rescue team are
suffering from altitude sickness. These sniffer dogs, too, their
capabilities have been affected to different degrees. These are
complicated topographical conditions," said Miao Chonggang, deputy
director of the emergency response team.

A small, newly built airport nearby had been crippled the first day by
power failures, but appeared to be open to a large degree Thursday for
relief supplies to be flown in and for injured patients to be flown out.

The main hospital in the county seat of Jiegu was destroyed in the
earthquake, and a day later people with untreated injuries could be seen
wandering in evident pain through the streets.

Many residents of urban areas of Yushu are impoverished former herders
and farmers resettled in public housing under a controversial program
that the Chinese government said would preserve grasslands and alleviate
poverty. Tibetan human rights groups have complained the practice has
deprived people of their traditions and livelihood, leading to social
unrest.

Footage shot by CNN showed Tibetans wandering through the rubble in
search of their personal possessions, pulling out Buddhist paintings,
and in one instance, a portrait of the Dalai Lama.

barbara.demick@latimes.com
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