Anniversary 'Fuels Tension'

Beijing-directed celebrations in Tibet come amid a security crackdown and detentions.
2011-07-18
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The Potala Palace in Lhasa is temporarily closed as senior Chinese leaders arrive in the Tibetan capital.
AFP

The Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was under tight security on Monday as senior Chinese leaders arrived to mark the 60th anniversary of the "liberation" of the Himalayan territory by the People's Liberation Army.

Vice-president Xi Jinping, who is widely tipped to succeed president Hu Jintao next year, arrived Sunday for a ceremony marking the anniversary amid a welter of Chinese flags and welcoming banners.

Local residents said the city was under tight security controls, with restrictions still in place on foreign tourism and some hotels taken over by armed police.

"We have had a lot of reservations in recent days ... mostly from the government," said an employee who answered the phone at a guesthouse in Lhasa. "[Security] is very strict."

"There are a lot [of armed police around ... ]," the employee said. "Our entire guesthouse has been given over to receiving [armed police] guests from headquarters."

The employee said the guests were scheduled to leave on Wednesday, following the ceremonies.

Strict controls

Meanwhile, an employee at a local travel agency said police would seal off certain neighborhoods for brief periods. "When the leaders have left they will lift [the controls]," she said.

"They are carrying out very strict checks now," the employee added. "The section of road from the Potala Palace to the Lhasa Hotel has been sealed off the most."

"The Potala Palace is closed, but I haven't had any notification about anywhere else," she said. "You can visit the other attractions like Sera monastery."

A Han Chinese resident of Lhasa said local people had been warned to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

"We basically already knew this," he said. "They told us to avoid gathering anywhere if possible."

A Tibetan resident said there had been a marked increase in police patrols ahead of the anniversary.

"Yes, [they told us not to go out much]." he said. "It's the 60th anniversary."

"You have to take your identity card [to go to the monasteries] ... you always need your identity card."

'Oppression continues'

Kalsang, a Chinese-language spokesman for the Dharamsala-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), said the feeling of festivity in Tibet was veneer-thin, however.

"Their cruel oppression of Tibetan people continues," he said. "So many people have been imprisoned, or detained."

"Their attempts to create a happy, celebratory atmosphere with singing and dancing are only going to deepen the wounds of the Tibetan people," he added.

"This is going to do nothing to improve Chinese rule in Tibet, nor to bring an improvement in the fortunes of the Tibetan people."

Tibet under Chinese rule was rated among 10 most repressive societies in a survey published last month by U.S.-based rights group Freedom House.

Security crackdown

The International Campaign for Tibet, which works closely with the Dalai Lama, says that Tibetans across the territory "are suffering the effects of a pervasive security crackdown in response to demonstrations for the return of the Dalai Lama and an end to repressive measures that suppress the free expression of their Tibetan identity."

However, Beijing said in a policy paper issued last week ahead of the anniversary of Tibet's "liberation" that Tibet had undergone "profound political, social and economic changes."

"Within six decades, Tibet has achieved development that would normally call for a millennium. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government, the people of Tibet have created a miracle," it said, citing the document released by the State Council's Information Office.

Freedom of religious belief of all ethnic groups in Tibet is respected and protected, Xinhua said, quoting the document "Sixty Years Since Peaceful Liberation of Tibet."

Dalai Lama, Obama meet

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the weekend, sparking an angry response from Beijing, which said it had damaged bilateral ties.

The Dalai Lama, who is accused by Beijing of being a separatist, said that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes that dialogue between his envoys and the Chinese government can soon resume, according to the statement.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle for more than five decades.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.