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Tibet instability a rumor, communist governor says

March 6, 2009

The Associated Press
March 5, 2009

BEIJING (AP) -- Tibet's governor insisted Thursday that his region is stable and will remain so ahead of a sensitive anniversary marking communist rule 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 the reports he was referring to.

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 renewed violence in Tibet itself.

Puncog said that this year Tibet will have no "big problems" of stability and that 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 instigators of the protests 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.

He 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."

Puncog said last month that 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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