On China's 60th anniversary, Tibet wants quiet
Thousands are expected at a government-led rally in Lhasa as Chinese soldiers with tear gas patrol the streets in a bid to prevent a riot similar to the one in March.
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Such heavy military presence began after the March 2008 riots, when monks from around Tibet protested in Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising in 1959 and in the wake of international rallies in support of Tibetan freedom in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. When security forces suppressed those protests, Tibetans began rioting in the streets, attacking ethnic Han Chinese civilians – who today outnumber Tibetans in Lhasa's population – and burning shops and vehicles.Skip to next paragraph
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The government reported that 22 people died in the Lhasa violence, including 18 civilians, one police officer, and three rioters. Outside observers placed the number of people killed between 100 and 218, according to the US Department of State's annual country report on human rights. Thousands were arrested and detained.
One Tibetan shopkeeper said two friends were imprisoned as police rounded up political dissidents. "I am not as afraid of the police on the street as I am of the secret police," the shopkeeper said. "They've been doing a lot of cleaning up, which means people have gone missing."
Monks from Ganden Monastery, about 45 kilometers outside Lhasa, also participated in the 2008 protest, and about 500 were defrocked in the fallout. Several hundred soldiers and police are now permanently stationed at Ganden, and a monk at the monastary says they eavesdrop on monks' conversations.
Dark humor, and paranoia, in the monastaries
Tibetans, reticent to openly criticize Chinese for fear of retribution, speak in hushed tones about the 2008 protest, and instead make jokes to diffuse the tension.
"Why are the police here? Because they want to study the scriptures and philosophy, of course," the monk at Ganden quipped.
In private conversations, Tibetans say they believe monks at many monasteries around Tibet are actually undercover police sent by authorities to search out Tibetan nationalists. Even at the Potala Palace, a UN World Heritage Site and home to the Dalai Lama until 1959, many of the monks and workers say that they think have been infiltrated by undercover Chinese officials.
"If I go to Potala Palace, the monks there listen to what I tell the tourists," said one government-approved tour guide. When tourists ask about what happened in March 2008, the guide said that he and his colleagues "play dumb."
China, however, maintains it is helping Tibet with its multi-million dollar investments in infrastructure and culture. On Aug. 23, the government announced it had completed a seven-year, $43.9-million renovation of Potala Palace and Norbu Lingka, another former palace of the Dalai Lama.
But Tibetans say such investments don't make the government's restrictions on religion and freedom more palatable. And while it may be possible to visit the former reception area of the 14th Dalai Lama inside the palace, locals decry the exile of Tibet's spiritual leader, who now lives in India.
On the day of the heavily guarded anniversary celebrations, a few Tibetans will likely be selected by the government to stand beside Chinese leaders and laud the country's accomplishments, a shop owner in Lhasa predicted.
Meanwhile, he said he and most other Tibetans will skip the celebrations and instead "go to the temple and pray for peace."