02/25/2009, 00.00
TIBET – CHINA
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Chinese troops on guard at the dawn of a joyless Tibetan New Year

Tibetans celebrate their New Year in prayer and silence. Tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers patrol the cities where chances of incidents are high. The Dalai Lama calls on his compatriots to be patient whilst Communist leaders celebrated questionable economic success.

Dharamsala (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tibetans ushered in Losar, the Tibetan New Year, which began at midnight on Wednesday, in utter silence to remember the many victims of China’s repression. Tensions remain high however as the Dalai Lama urges his people not to respond to provocations.

Despite being their most loved festivity, Tibetans will not celebrate Losar this year. It is their way of protesting against China’s repression. To counter that Chinese authorities are organising celebrations and for this purpose they have banned foreigners from Tibet, deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in its cities and crushed every attempt at protest, however small, with beatings and arrests.

Recently in the city of Labrang (pictured) local authorities even announced in local television and radio broadcasts, as well as in local newspapers, that they will not be held responsible for any deaths or arrests that may result from protests.

Beijing has also called on Nepal, home to 20,000 Tibetan refugees, to ban anti-China protests.

“The Chinese government is flooding Tibet with troops and attempting to force Tibetans to celebrate the New Year against their will but, in spite of incredible risks to themselves, Tibetans remain defiant,” said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet.

In contrast, Chinese state-run television has broadcast footage of dancers in traditional Tibetan garb while an audience including monks applauded.

Local sources said that in reality Lhasa is a ghost town. Instead of pilgrims, armed soldiers and police are lined in front of the Jokhang and Ramoche temples, the flashpoints of protests last March.

In the city of Tongren (Qinghai), a steady flow of locals walked to a monastery to make offerings and turn prayer wheels while chanting and clutching beads, in memory of the victims.

Tensions are high because March will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tibet’s 1959 uprising followed by tthe Dalai Lama’s flight. It will also be the 1st anniversary of the 14 March 2008 unrest that was crushed in blood.

On the government-in-exile’s website the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying that the Chinese government’s “intention and aim” is “to subject the Tibetan people to such a level of cruelty and harassment that they will not be able to tolerate and thus be forced to remonstrate.” He urged therefore his fellow Tibetans not to fall for the provocation.

For their part China’s Communist authorities deny that there are any tensions in Tibet, stressing instead the country’s alleged economic development.

Liu Yunshan, head of the ruling Communist Party's propaganda department, said it was undeniable that government policies in Tibet “have created one miracle after another”.

Wu Jianhua, deputy director of the Tibetan branch of the National Statistics Bureau, said that 180 infrastructure projects, with a price tag of nearly 80 billion yuan, will be implemented from 2006 to 2010 in Tibet.

But Xu Jianchang, deputy director of the Tibet Regional Development and Reform Commission, acknowledged that local tourism (4.02 million tourists bringing in 4.85 billion yuan in 2007) has collapsed as a result of the March 2008 protests, cutting in local revenues.

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