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China denounces Dalai Lama on torch relay

June 23, 2008

By Chris Buckley
The Washington Post/Reuters (USA)
June 21, 2008

LHASA, China (Reuters) - Chinese Communist Party officials in charge
of restive Tibet used the passing of the Olympic torch relay through
the capital Lhasa on Saturday to defend their control and denounce
the exiled Dalai Lama.

The torch procession ended under tight security below the towering
Potala palace after having been run for just over two hours before a
carefully-selected crowd, some three months after the region was
convulsed by bloody anti-Chinese protests.

"Tibet's sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will
forever flutter high above it," Tibet's hardline Communist Party boss
Zhang Qingli said at a ceremony marking the end of the two-hour relay
through strictly guarded streets.

"We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of
the Dalai Lama clique," he added, in front of the Potala, traditional
seat of the Dalai Lama, the most powerful figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

China accuses the exiled Dalai Lama of inciting protests and riots
that erupted in Lhasa and then across wider Tibet in March in a bid
to undermine the Beijing Olympics, which open on August 8. The Dalai
Lama denies the charges.

The Beijing Games torch has never been far from controversy, and
never more so than in its run through the streets of the 3,650-metre
(12,000 feet) high city of Lhasa.

The city was under lockdown with police and troops every few meters
along the relay streets, closely watching the groups of residents
chosen to cheer on the torch. Shops were shut.

At the start of the relay, groups of students -- Tibetan and Han
Chinese -- waved Olympic banners, the Chinese national flag, and the
hammer and sickle banner of the ruling Communist Party.

"We are convinced that the Beijing Olympic Games' torch relay in
Lhasa will further inflame the patriotic spirit of the people,"
Lhasa's Communist Party boss Qin Yizhi said at the opening ceremony,
adding it would also help "smash the scheming of the Dalai Lama clique."

But some students seemed hesitant in giving an answer when asked of
the meaning of the torch passing through Tibet.

"I'm not sure of the meaning," said one ethnic Tibetan student, who
declined to be identified. "I guess it's the first time the torch
relay has been held in China's Tibet and that's something to be proud of."

China does not allow free reporting in Tibet, and only a few dozen
foreign reporters were allowed to Lhasa for the relay, where they
were anxiously shepherded around by officials.


For many exiled Tibetans and human rights groups, the Lhasa torch
relay serves as a sign of China's overbearing influence. The
officials' fiery comments about the Dalai Lama are also likely to
draw criticism from critics who say China has used the Games for its
own political ends.

"This provocative decision -- with the blessing of the International
Olympic Committee -- could aggravate tensions and undermine the
fragile process to find a peaceful long-term solution for Tibet and
the region," said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom.

But for many Chinese, outraged by the March unrest and then the
protests against China's rule in Tibet that dogged the international
stage of the torch relay, the Lhasa stop of the torch is a moment of

"For me as a son of the Chinese people, the Olympic Games is a grand
event we've always looked forward to," said Zha Lang, a retired
ethnic Tibetan official who was among those cheering on the square
under the Potala.

"After the March 14 riots, this event has become even more a symbol
of the unity of the Chinese nation."

(Editing by Ben Blanchard and Valerie Lee)

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