04/29/2008, 00.00
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Life in prison for monks held "responsible" for protests in Tibet

Seventeen people get harsh sentences. At least six monks are sentenced to prison terms that range from 15 years to life. Meanwhile Beijing re-opens a monastery been shut down during protests. After being the object of pro-Tibet demonstrations, the Olympic torch is feted in Communist Viet Nam.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Tibet, which is still off-limits to foreign journalists and visitors, 17 people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years to life for taking part in protests in Lhasa last month. Basang, a monk, is among those who got life behind bars. He is accused of leading ten people, including five other monks who got 15 to 20 years, in attacks against public offices and stores as well as a policeman.

China has not said how many other Tibetans are waiting trial; exiles talk about hundreds of people in detention.

The sentences come on the same day authorities announced the reopening of the first of the Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa—the Sera Monastery—closed after last month's riots.

At the same time Chinese authorities have stepped up their education campaign in which monks are required to make ritual denunciations of the exiled Dalai Lama, accept the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama (the one indicated by the Dalai Lama “disappeared” in 1995), and pledge allegiance to Beijing.

As a result of repression in Tibet protests have taken place around the world against Beijing’s Olympic torch. But today it is in Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam) where about 60 torch bearers are set to carry it from the Opera Hall to a military stadium along a secret route. Although two people were arrested it is not expected protests are not expected in the Communist nation. The same occurred in repressive North Korea yesterday.

In Tibet protests, initially led by Buddhist monks, began peacefully on 10 March, and turned violent after security force began cracking down.

According to official figures demonstrators caused the death of18 civilians and a policeman and injured another 383 civilians and 241 policemen. Pro-Tibet groups claim instead that police killed more than 140 people.

Following widespread international criticism, Beijing recently agreed to meet representatives of the Dalai Lama’ Tibet’s spiritual leader in order to ease tensions in the region.

Chinese media have not refrained however from levelling accusations at the Dalai Lama’s gang, depicting the religious leader as a dangerous terrorists and separatist.

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