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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China Has Sentenced 55 Over Tibet Riot in March

November 6, 2008

By EDWARD WONG, New York Times, November 6, 2008

BEIJING - Fifty-five Tibetans have received prison sentences for their 
actions in the March 14 ethnic riot that engulfed Lhasa, the capital 
of the Tibet Autonomous Region in western China, according to a senior 
Chinese official quoted Wednesday by Xinhua, the state news agency.

The report was the first by an official news source stating the number 
of sentences handed down after the riot, which erupted days after 
monks staged peaceful protests in Lhasa.

The prison sentences range from three years to life, Xinhua reported.

The report in Xinhua was based on comments made Tuesday by Baema 
Cewang, vice chairman of the Tibet regional government, when he met 
with Michael Andrew Johnson, a visiting member of the Australian House 
of Representatives.

Xinhua did not give details of how the sentences were handed down or 
what sort of trial the prisoners had received, if any.

The report came as envoys of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual 
leader of the Tibetans, met this week in Beijing with Chinese 
officials to discuss Tibet policies and the status of the Dalai Lama, 
who has not been allowed to return to Tibet since fleeing to India in 
1959.

The Dalai Lama has called for autonomy in Tibetan regions of China and 
has not advocated outright independence. But he is facing growing 
pressure from younger Tibetans to take a more aggressive stand since 
the Chinese government has made no substantive concessions.

News agencies in China had reported that as of April 29, 30 people had 
been convicted of arson, robbery, disrupting public order and 
attacking government offices, among other crimes related to the riot, 
which was the worst outburst of ethnic violence in China in recent 
years. It was unclear whether any or all of these people were included 
in the 55 who were reported to have received prison sentences.

The riot involved Tibetans attacking Han Chinese living and working in 
Lhasa, a high-altitude city on a desert plateau that has drawn many 
Han settlers in recent years because of financial incentives put in 
place by Chinese officials.

The Chinese government has actively encouraged Han migration to ethnic 
minority regions in western China, particularly Tibet and Xinjiang, 
and that in turn has led to rising tensions between locals and the Han 
settlers who come seeking jobs and business opportunities.

The March riot led to a government crackdown in the autonomous region 
and other Tibetan areas in western China, particularly in the 
mountainous redoubts of Sichuan Province.

Advocacy groups supporting greater rights for Tibetans or Tibetan 
independence have released a steady stream of reports about detentions 
and executions, including of monks and nuns. Few of the reports have 
been independently confirmed.

Xinhua cited Mr. Cewang as saying that after the violence in March, 
the police detained 1,317 people, of whom 1,115 were subsequently 
released.

The March violence resulted in the deaths of 18 civilians and one 
police officer, while 382 civilians and 241 police officers were 
injured, Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

Previously the authorities had said 22 people were killed in the 
rioting. Exile groups have said scores of Tibetans were killed in the 
crackdown that followed.

Xinhua reported that rioters also burned 120 houses and 84 vehicles 
and looted 1,367 shops, causing an economic loss of about $47 million.

The Chinese government has accused the Dalai Lama of organizing the 
riot in order to disrupt the Olympic Games, which took place in 
Beijing in August.

The Dalai Lama has denied the accusations. In recent weeks, he has 
expressed disappointment in the pace of negotiations with the Chinese 
government over the status of Tibet and has said Tibetans in the 
future might push for independence using strategies other than the 
moderate "middle way" that he has long advocated.
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