04/27/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Numbers war between government and monks over Qinghai quake death toll

For the government, the death toll stands just above 2,000. Monks say it is between 4,000 and 10,000. Their sources are the number of prayers they are asked to perform for the dead and the number of bodies they have had to cremate. Meanwhile, police arrest renowned Tibetan writer guilty of criticising the authorities.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A numbers war has broken out over the death toll in the Qinghai earthquake between the government, which has counted so far about 2,200 dead, and local Buddhist monks, who say that the actual figure ranges between 4,000 and 10,000.

The government announced yesterday that 2,220 people had died in the quake and that about 70 were still missing, as of Sunday. Qinghai Deputy Governor Zhang Guangrong said that the government count was accurate, insisting that it was based on reliable data provided by search teams.

Local monks are not so sure. After being the first rescuers in many affected areas, they were able to collect data based on the number of bodies they have had to cremate and on the number of quake victims for whom they have been asked to pray. For example, monks at the Jiegu Monastery said that on 17 April alone, they cremated 2,110 bodies.

Until now, Chinese authorities have failed to take into account these data and compare them to those of its own officials.

Local sources add that the government has underestimated the number of the missing, with some going so far as to say that official figures are simply unreliable.

The apparent discrepancy between data is fuelling local resentment against the authorities, given the respect residents have for monks.

What is certain though is that the government will not brook any dissenting voice over Qinghai relief operations.

Tibetan writer Tagyal (who signs his books Zhogs Ding) found this out the hard way. Police took him into custody on Friday in Xining after he criticised relief efforts and co-signed an open letter, in which the public was asked to donate food, clothing and medicine for quake victims but not through government relief organisations, which could be corrupt.

Family and friends also suggest that he might have been arrested because of a Tibetan-language book he wrote: Distinguishing Sky from Earth. In it, he slams Beijing for its violent crackdown of anti-government protests in March 2008.

During Taygal’s arrest, police seized the writer’s computers. They had already seized all the copies of his book in bookstores.

Days after his arrest, the authorities have not yet given an official explanation for their action. The writer’s wife has also been denied the right to visit him.

Taygal’s friend Tserang Woeser said, “The book has been very popular [among Tibetans] and influential as it examines the rioting in 2008. He accused the government of repressive policies after the rioting.”

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