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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibet riot anniversary passes in tense quiet

March 16, 2009

By AUDRA ANG ‘ March 14, 2009

CHENGDU, China (AP) ‘ Paramilitary and plainclothes police blanketed the
Tibetan capital with patrols and checkpoints Saturday, imposing what
witnesses called a tense calm on the first anniversary of a violent
anti-Chinese riot.

Lhasa residents said police with rifles or batons marched around the
Jokhang Temple and the adjacent Barkhor Square in the old city, where
protesters ran rampant last year. A Hong Kong tourist said two military
helicopters hovered over the city in the morning ‘ a rare sight ‘ and
that officers demanded to see identification at checkpoints.

"I was constantly stopped for identity check in the past few days," said
the tourist, who only wanted to be identified by his surname, Chu,
because of the heavy security. "I was stopped twice last night on my way
back to my hotel from dinner."

The Communist Party secretary of China's Tibetan government defended the
heavy troop presence as necessary to quell any separatist violence,
which the government accuses supporters of the exiled Tibetan leader,
the Dalai Lama, of inciting.

"We face a very serious and complicated situation, and the mission
shouldered by the troops is sacred and honorable," the official Tibet
Daily's Web site quoted party secretary Zhang Qingli as saying. The
armed forces "should thoroughly foil the intrigues and plots of the
Dalai clique that attempt to split the motherland and make Tibet unstable."

The riot erupted on March 14, 2008, after four days of largely peaceful
protests led by Buddhist monks that called on China to allow the Dalai
Lama to return. Tibetans torched and ransacked Chinese businesses in
violence the government says killed 22, mostly Chinese. Tibetans,
however, say many more died in the ensuing crackdown.

The violence touched off protests in Tibetan communities in Tibet and
neighboring provinces that sputtered on for weeks ‘ the largest uprising
against Chinese rule in decades.

Since then, China has kept a swath of western China ringed with troops
and checkpoints, imposing a form of martial law and an information
blockade. Foreigners and foreign media have been barred from the media
for much of the period, and in some areas Internet and mobile phone
text-messaging services have been cut.

Several media outlets from the Chinese territory in Hong Kong, however,
managed to get reporters into Lhasa for the anniversary. Hong Kong RTHK
radio posted photos on its Web site showing shuttered shops around the
Jokhang temple while armed police with automatic rifles patrolled nearby.

The South China Morning Post carried reports from an unidentified staff
reporter describing door-to-door inspections of hotels and neighborhoods
to round up "suspicious people."

The extraordinary security and government secrecy has left unexplained
key parts of the uprising and its suppression while leaving some
Tibetans more resentful of Chinese rule.

"The Chinese government has never given a full and detailed account of
the protests and of the response by the security forces," said a report
released this week by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The number
and extent of protests that took place, as well as the details of how
they escalated and how the security forces responded, remain unknown."

Aside from the 22 deaths in Lhasa, Beijing has acknowledged other deaths
occurred in clashes in other Tibetan communities, but has never provided
a full tally. Meanwhile, the exiled Tibetan government in India said the
suppression of the uprising left 220 Tibetans dead and nearly 7,000

Also unexplained is how Chinese security lost control of Lhasa. March is
often a volatile period in Tibet. Last year's protests began March 10,
the 49th anniversary of the abortive revolt against China that caused
the Dalai Lama to flee, and Lhasa's always large contingent of security
forces had stopped smaller protests for four days when they were
seemingly overwhelmed by mobs of Tibetans.

Outside Lhasa, police opened fire on crowds of Tibetans in parts of
Sichuan province counties of Aba and Ganzi during later protests,
according to witnesses and overseas Tibet support groups.

On Saturday residents of those counties and other communities that saw
protests described security arrangements Saturday similar to those in
Lhasa. Police in the overwhelmingly Chinese provincial capital of
Chengdu blocked traffic into the city's Tibetan neighborhood, and
plainclothes police followed foreign reporters.
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