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More Armed Police in Tibet as Religious Festival Begins

June 5, 2008

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
June 4, 2008

BEIJING (AFP) - Extra numbers of armed police deployed to the streets
of the Tibetan capital Lhasa Wednesday, a local official said, as
Buddhist pilgrims flocked to the city for a traditional religious festival.

Tibet exploded in a wave of violent unrest in March this year after
police had earlier prevented peaceful demonstrations by Buddhist
monks in Lhasa, arresting many and beating others, exiled Tibetan groups said.

June 4 this year marks the beginning of the month-long Saga Dawa
festival celebrating the birth of the Buddha in the Tibetan calendar,
and separately is also the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

"The deployment of armed police was increased because of the coming
of a religious festival and as a response to some threat remarks made
by Tibetan separatists recently," a government spokesman told AFP by phone.

"Tibetan separatists have said publicly that they were preparing to
'take some actions'. We certainly have to increase police deployment
in response to ensure people's safety at the festival."

It was not clear exactly what "remarks" the spokesman was referring
to and he did not elaborate.

During the festival, pilgrims descend on Lhasa's famed Barkor Square,
where they prostrate themselves before the Jokhang Temple, one of
Tibetan Buddhism's most sacred shrines and a focal point for the
unrest in March.

State press reports also cited the deputy chairman of the Tibet
region, Pelma Trilek, calling Tuesday for a heightened security
presence in Lhasa and around Tibet to rein in any potential unrest.

The government spokesman, who refused to give his name, denied that
security was being stepped up because the Tibet leg of the Beijing
Olympic torch relay is scheduled to go through Lhasa on June 19.

The torch's worldwide relay was the longest and most ambitious in
Olympic history but was accompanied by pro-Tibetan rallies early on
its tour that embarrassed Beijing ahead of the August Games.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the Chinese crackdown
on the demonstrations in the Himalayan region, while China says it
killed no one and that rioters were responsible for 21 deaths.

China has largely blamed the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the
Dalai Lama for fomenting the unrest and accused him of seeking to
sabotage the Olympic Games.

Despite such accusations, Beijing in early May restarted a dialogue
with representatives of the Dalai Lama in talks seen as aimed at
negotiating a return of the Buddhist leader to his Tibetan homeland.

China "peacefully liberated" Tibet in the early 1950s, which resulted
in the Dalai Lama fleeing the region in 1959 after a failed uprising
against Chinese rule.

In recent years, the Dalai Lama has renounced Tibetan independence
and while acknowledging that the Himalayan region is a part of China
has urged greater political and religious autonomy for his homeland.

The Dalai Lama told AFP in a recent interview he believed a new round
of long-running talks with Beijing officials would take place in the
Chinese capital on June 11.

Also Wednesday, authorities stepped up security in central Beijing as
relatives of victims marked the 19th anniversary of a crackdown on
pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Hundreds, if not thousands of students and other pro-democracy
protesters who had been demonstrating peacefully in Beijing for weeks
were shot dead by authorities on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
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