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China parades Olympic torch in heavily guarded capital of Tibet

June 23, 2008

Critics call it a provocative move, three months after a violent
crackdown on anti-China protests in the Himalayan region.
By Ching-Ching Ni, Staff Writer;
The Los Angeles Times
June 22, 2008

BEIJING -- China paraded the Olympic torch through the Tibetan
capital Saturday in defiance of critics who called it a provocative
move that could undermine the fragile peace in the Himalayan region
three months after the government suppressed violent anti-China protests there.

Lhasa remained under virtual lockdown as security forces guarded the
carefully selected crowds that cheered the scaled-down two-hour-plus
relay from Norbulingka, a traditional Tibetan square, to the Potala
Palace, the former seat of power of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader,
the Dalai Lama.

The torch relay has been dogged by controversy since it began in
Greece in March. What was designed as a worldwide goodwill tour
showcasing a rising new China has become a magnet for trouble.

Vocal protests were staged by pro-Tibetan activists as the torch
passed through major cities, including Paris and San Francisco.

Soon after the torch arrived in China in May for a cross-country run,
organizers were forced to call a timeout when a massive earthquake
struck the heartland, killing 70,000 people. Remaining routes were
shortened, and the relay has turned into a tribute not just to the
Olympic Games but also to the earthquake victims.

The Tibetan leg of the journey was long considered among the most
sensitive because of its symbolism. Beijing is eager to show that
Chinese of all ethnic backgrounds are united by a love of country and
sports. But critics say it's an offensive means of emphasizing
Chinese domination so soon after the military crackdown on what
Tibetan activists have called a popular uprising.

"The Chinese government is wielding the Olympic torch as a tool of
oppression over the heads of Tibetans still suffering under China's
brutal clampdown," said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of New
York-based Students for a Free Tibet.

According to the Tibetan government in exile, at least 209 protesters
were killed in the March unrest. Chinese officials put the number at
19. The information is difficult to verify because Tibet remains
largely sealed off from the outside world. Tourists and journalists
are forbidden except by invitation on specially organized trips.

Activists say that thousands of Tibetans remain unaccounted for after
the riots and that a climate of fear has fallen over the remote
Buddhist region.

The Chinese government has accused the Dalai Lama of instigating the
riots and fanning the flames of Tibetan independence despite his
repeated claims otherwise. Lhasa's Communist Party boss, Qin Yizhi,
said at the opening ceremony of Saturday's relay that the torch run
would help reinforce the Chinese people's patriotic spirit and "smash
the scheming of the Dalai Lama clique."

Despite the rhetoric, Beijing was clearly worried about possible
disruptions, carefully orchestrating the relay and shortening the
route by about two-thirds.
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