04/19/2010, 00.00
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Qinghai: number of victims rises as Dalai Lama asks to visit the area

Official sources say the Tibetan plateau quake killed 1,700 people, a number bound to go up. Dalai Lama, who is a native of the area, asks Beijing to be allowed to visit the area to bring his support to survivors. A Chinese newspaper surprisingly backs the request.
Lhasa (AsiaNews) – Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived yesterday in Gyêgu, epicentre of the devastating earthquake that struck the Tibetan plateau last week.  The president came to encourage rescuers to continue their work and to commemorate the victims. In the meantime, the death toll continues to rise, 1,700 according to official sources, more than 2,000 according to locals. The Dalai Lama has also asked Beijing to be allowed to visit the area, a visit the Chinese government should authorise, an analyst writes in the South China Morning Post.

President Hu arrived in the mountainous province of Qinghai after cutting short an official visit to Latin America. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had preceded him, coming soon after the quake, which measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, hit the area on 14 April.

Rescue officials said arrangements have been made to supply basic necessities to the over 12,000 injured and 100,000 displaced people. However, getting things back to normal will be difficult since refugee camps are located above 4,000 metres.

“Saving lives remains the first priority. We treasure every life,” Hu said during a meeting with survivors. However, even though an elderly man was extracted alive after more than 100 hours under the rubbles, hope that more people can be rescued is getting slimmer by the minute.

The first funerals saw scenes of utter grief, as bodies were cremated in huge pyres in a break with Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which calls for individual funerals.

Monks in the plateau’s many monasteries are seen by local communities are their natural leaders. They warn that the death toll could rise significantly. They also reportedthat hundreds of survivors are bringing the bodies of their loved ones directly to the monasteries without registering their death with public authorities to avoid collective funerals.

From his exile in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama has extended his condolences to the population. He has also asked the Chinese government for permission to visit the area, which is where he was born.

 “I commend the monastic community, young people and many other individuals from nearby areas for their good neighbourly support and assistance to the families of those who have lost everything,” he said in a statement. The Tibetan religious leader has also praised Beijing for its quick action and for its handling of the rescue operations.

The “location of the earthquake, Kyigudo (Chinese: Yushu), lies in Qinghai Province,” which “happens to be where both the late Panchen Lama and I were born. To fulfil the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort,” he added.

However, according to Wang Xiangwei, an analyst with  the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Beijing will not meet the Dalai Lama’s request. The same happened two years ago at the time of the Sichuan quake.

For him, this is regrettable because the feeling of national unity is very high in China right now. The government should not fear the influence of the Dalai Lama, but use this opportunity to show that ethnic Han Chinese and Tibetans can live and work together.

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