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China Condemns Dalai Lama in Tibet

June 24, 2008

By Chris Buckley
June 22, 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 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 this 3,650-metre
(12,000 feet) high city.

Lhasa 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".

The official Xinhua news agency said the torch passed through Lhasa
"in a joyful and peaceful atmosphere". It next heads to the
neighboring province of Qinghai, home to many ethnic Tibetans.


Later in the day, shops re-opened and locals spilled on to the
streets. But in the Barkhor neighborhood of old Lhasa -- a web of
alleys centered on the Jokhang temple -- Tibetan residents showed
little enthusiasm for the relay and spoke flinchingly of the unrest,
crackdown and a dearth of business and jobs.

"It's still very tense... Best not go out at night," said one Tibetan
jewel shop owner. "We're waiting for the tourists to come back, but
they're not coming. They're still too scared."

Outside his doorway passed a flow of Buddhist pilgrims, locals and
Chinese tourists -- but in far smaller numbers than years past, he
said. Many shopfronts were shuttered.

Asked about the relay, another local said, "We have other things to
think about." She and the shop owner did not want their names used.

In Dharamsala, the northern Indian town where the Dalai Lama's
government-in-exile in based, a small group of protesters from
Students for a Free Tibet paraded around the town's main square.

They performed a street play that showed China trampling on Tibet.

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 also drew
criticism from critics who say China has used the Games for its own
political ends.

"Tibet does not need this Cultural Revolution-style rhetoric," said
the London-based Free Tibet Campaign's Matt Whitticase by telephone.

"The Chinese government must engage with the Dalai Lama in
substantive talks to lead to a lasting political settlement in
Tibet," he added.

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 was a proud
moment of vindication.

"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.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Abhishek
Madhukar in Dharamsala; Editing by David Fogarty)

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here
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