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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."

Lockdown in Lhasa as Chinese police brace for Tibetan protests

March 11, 2009

Nepalese riot police detain a Tibetan Buddhist monk during a clash near the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
Jane Macartney in Beijing
The Times (UK)
March 11, 2009

Armed paramilitary police have surrounded Tibetan monasteries across China. Inside, frightened monks have hidden away their illegal photographs of the Dalai Lama.

Officials were determined to avoid any renewed show of anti-Chinese feeling on the anniversary of the start of an insurrection that led to the flight of the region’s god-king into exile half a century ago.

In Lhasa, capital of the restive Himalayan region, the distinctive black vans of the special riot police drove slowly up and down streets around the old city that surrounds the sacred Jokhang Temple. This was the focal point of anti-Chinese demonstrations that spiralled into riots that left 22 people dead on March 14 last year.

Patrols of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, responsible for enforcing domestic order, have been expanded from five men to thirteen in each squad. Many carried firearms, residents said. Armed police stood guard on street corners, in pairs with their backs to the wall. Others could be seen on rooftops of buildings around the street that surrounds the Jokhang Temple and which is among the holiest routes for pilgrims visiting Lhasa.

Few pilgrims were to be seen yesterday. Stalls selling marigolds and hunks of yak butter were closed. One Lhasa resident, who declined to be named, said: “The atmosphere is pretty tense. There are more armed police than normal but it isn’t as much as when the Olympic torch was here. Then every road was closed off."

One hotel employee said: "There are armed police around the temple. You need to keep your ID with you because the police are checking.”

Mobile phones in the city were virtually useless because of signal interference, residents said. China Mobile had notified subscribers that the system would undergo maintenance from March 10 until April 1 — a move seen as intended to prevent Tibetans from sending text messages, thereby spreading word of any unrest.

In the town of Xiahe, home to one of Tibetan Buddhism’s great temples and a scene of protests last March, about 4,000 additional security forces had been deployed, while schools and colleges for Tibetan students were closed. They were told to stay at home for the next five days. One resident said: "Not even a fly could get in here.”

In the small towns scattered across the vast but sparsely populated region -- about the size of Western Europe -- police have set up numerous checkpoints on major roads. In larger towns, paramilitary troops have thrown up sandbagged positions in the central squares and military-style chicanes on the edge of town.
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