04/04/2008, 00.00
TIBET - CHINA
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Incidents in Lhasa: still no "official" explanation

Beijing denies that its soldiers fomented the protests, and says that the photograph of a soldier dressed as a monk is "false". But it is not explaining why the police were unprepared for the predictable protests. More than 1,000 arrestees will be tried immediately, before the media are readmitted.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China is denying that its own soldiers, dressed as monks, instigated the violence in Tibet.  Meanwhile, it has admitted, weeks later, that police fired on a Tibetan crowd in Sichuan.

According to Beijing, the photo shown by the Dalai Lama (of a monk holding a sword that is not Tibetan, but Chinese) really is an image of an army official dressed as a monk, but it is three years old.  It says that security forces could not have worn the summer uniforms seen in the photograph, because they are unsuited for the cold climate in March, and because they were changed in 2005.  And while Tibetan exiles have affirmed that eyewitnesses saw soldiers dressed as monks, they have still not identified them.  China says that 18 civilians died in the protests, but the Tibetan government-in-exile says there have been at least 140 verified deaths.

Meanwhile, Wang Xiangming, deputy chief of the communist party in Lhasa, has admitted that more than 1,000 people have been arrested over the protests, and will be tried by the end of April.  Because Beijing has announced that Tibet will reopen to tourists on May 1, it is clear the the intention is to conduct the trials without any outside observers.  Tibet was isolated on March 16, immediately after the explosion of the violence, which many tourists present recounted to the foreign media or filmed, making it impossible to keep it quiet.

Xiao Youcai, deputy head of the Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture that includes Aba county (Sichuan), admitted for the first time yesterday that the police there fired on demonstrators on March 16 and 17, "wounding some of them", clarifying that they did so out of self-defence and that "we have not seen anyone die".  The area will be reopened to tourists very soon, but "it is still not safe for journalists", "who are still not welcome".  But the Free Tibet Campaign says at least 13 deaths have been certified.

Beijing accuses "the clique of the Dalai Lama" for the uprisings, but after weeks there is still no credible reconstruction of the origin of the revolts, above all because of the rigid censorship imposed immediately on the media, and the closing off of the area.  Many maintain that it is "unbelievable" that the police were not ready to face protests, in part because demonstrations are regularly held on March 10, the anniversary of the flight of the Dalai Lama from Lhasa.  Besides, the disorder exploded on March 14, after four days of peaceful protests by the monks, and after the army and police had already arrived in force.  Even the public safety cameras in the streets, together with the testimony of foreigners, indicate the absence of the police from the ethnic Han neighbourhoods in Lhasa at the moment of the violence.

The Tibetan authorities have publicly expressed their "apologies" to the families of the five girls who died in a fire in a clothing store in Lhasa on March 14.  And they repeat that the fault is that of "the separatist activities of the clique of the Dalai Lama".

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