Life Slowly Returns to Lhasa

A trickle of tourists from other parts of China has resumed into the Tibetan capital, although few shops have opened in downtown Lhasa despite encouragement by local officials to do so. Phone services to the city have improved, and Tibetan students are being taken on "educational" trips by the authorities.
KATHMANDU
2008-05-08
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The Tibetan capital city, Lhasa, all but cut off from the outside world after a military crackdown on anti-Chinese riots and demonstrations in mid-March, is slowly beginning to show more signs of life, sources in the city said.

A small number of foreign tourists was visible on the streets, along with more visitors from elsewhere in China, both Han Chinese and Muslims, according to one resident.

But she said the movements of Tibetans were still restricted in the wake of the protests, which set Lhasa ablaze with anti-Chinese sentiment and prompted an armed crackdown from thousands of Chinese security forces who have held the city ever since.

"No Tibetans from the Kham and Amdo regions [including Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu] are allowed to purchase train tickets to go to Lhasa," the woman said.

"Many of them do have resident permits, but they need a residence permit for Lhasa to purchase a train ticket. They were told it was as per the instructions of the central government in Beijing," she added.  "However, Han Chinese and Muslim Chinese are allowed to travel to Tibet."

'Educational' trips for students

She said further "re-education" seemed to be under way by Chinese authorities, aimed at the Tibetan population.

"Tibetan students in Lhasa are made to visit the museum in Lhasa regularly to educate them about the dark side of traditional Tibetan society," the woman said.

The apparent relaxation comes after the first round of talks between representatives of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and Chinese officials.

Communications services were improving, with more phone services up and running than before, sources said.

"The telephone was not working for many days. We could not call others and others could not call us. Since yesterday, the phone lines have improved," the Lhasa woman said.

In Lhasa, the elderly are beginning to walk around the streets more freely, but so far no shopkeepers or stallholders appear to have taken up the government's offer to resume trade in central shopping districts such as Bakhor and Jokhang, although some businesses were re-opening near the Ramoche monastery.

Monasteries open

Lhasa's main monasteries, including Drepung and Sera, re-opened last week, and some monks were inside, but members of the public were not yet visiting them, Lhasa residents said.

The Dalai Lama's envoy, Lodi Gyari, said Chinese negotiators had shown a willingness to engage with the Tibetan side during recent talks. But he said there were many areas where both sides had simply "agreed to disagree."

China says the "Dalai Lama clique" was responsible for disturbances in Tibet and protests over the Olympic torch, which reached the top of Mount Everest on Thursday, carried the last few yards by a Tibetan woman amid scenes of patriotic jubilation.

While Lhasa remains under tight military control, sporadic protests continue to surface in western China among Tibetans calling for religious freedom, Tibetan independence, and support for the Dalai Lama.

More thsn 300 nuns in Wadha monastery located near Simo village, Dakgo county in Sichuan province, hung banners with slogans that read "religious freedom, Tibetan independence," a spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile in India said.

An employee who answered the phone at the Dakgo religious affairs bureau said the monastery was currently under investigation by Chinese state security police.

Security investigation

"It is not so convenient to talk about this... We are just investigating those who organize activities to split the country and those who instigate subversive activities," the official said.

Lodi Gyari said the Tibetan side had categorically rejected Chinese accusations that the Dalai Lama was behind the demonstrations and unrest in Tibet, which began in Lhasa and spread rapidly to other Tibetan regions of western China.

The envoys told the Chinese officials that events in Tibet were "a clear symptom of deeply felt grievances and resentment of the Tibetans" towards Chinese government policies going back decades, and appealed for an end to "the current repression."

They particularly took aim at the deeply resented current "patiotic education" campaigns in which Chinese officials put pressure on Tibetans to embrace the Communist Party line and renounce the Dalai Lama as a "splittist."

Sources from the Tibetan government in exile also said Thursday that prayer sessions were held in almost all big monasteries in Tibet.

The sessions focused on praying for world peace and the Beijing Olympics. According to Chinese government sources, more than 400 monks from Drepung monastery and 350 monks from Sera monastery prayed during the sessions, compared with historical highs of 10,000 monks and 7,000 monks respectively.

Original reporting in Tibetan by Yandon Demo, in Mandarin by Qiao Long and in Cantonese by Hoi Lam. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated by Jia Yuan, Karma Dorjee and Shiny Li. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
 

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