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星期二, 三月 18, 2008

two Lhasa reports from The Economist

Fire on the roof of the world

Mar 14th 2008 | LHASA
From Economist.com
Simmering resentment boils over

THE Chinese authorities had been fearing trouble, but nothing on this scale. An orgy of anti-Chinese rioting convulsed the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on Friday March 14th, leaving security forces uncertain how to respond. For many hours mobs controlled the streets, burning and looting as they pleased.

The approach of Beijing’s Olympic games in August is seen by many of Lhasa’s residents as an opportunity to put their contempt for Chinese rule on display to the outside world. China’s desire to ensure the games are not marred by calls for boycotts is tying its hands as it considers how to respond.

Your correspondent, the only foreign journalist with official permission to be in Lhasa when the violence erupted, saw crowds hurling chunks of concrete at the numerous small shops run by ethnic Chinese lining the streets of the city’s old Tibetan quarter. They threw them too at those Chinese caught on the streets—a boy on a bicycle, taxis (whose drivers are often Chinese) and even a bus. Most Chinese fled the area as quickly as they could, leaving their shops shuttered.

The mobs, ranging from small groups of youths (some armed with traditional Tibetan swords) to crowds of many dozens, including women and children, rampaged through the narrow alleys of the Tibetan quarter. They battered the shutters of shops, broke in and seized whatever they could, from hunks of meat to gas canisters and clothing. Some goods they carried away—little children could be seen looting a toyshop—but most they heaped in the streets and set alight.

Within a couple of hours, fires were blazing in the streets across much of the city. Some buildings caught fire too. A pall of smoke blanketed Lhasa, obscuring the ancient Potala—the city’s most famous monument, which covers a hillside overlooking the city. It is the traditional winter palace of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, who fled into exile in India after an abortive uprising in 1959. Some of the demonstrators shouted slogans like “long live Tibet” and “long live the Dalai Lama”. One group trampled on a Chinese flag in the middle of a main road.

The rioting seemed primarily an eruption of ethnic hatred. Immigrants have been flocking into Lhasa in recent years from the rest of China and now run many of its shops, small businesses and tourist facilities. Tourism is the mainstay of Lhasa’s economy and has been booming in recent years, not least thanks to Tibet’s first railway link with the rest of China, opened two years ago. The visitors are mainly Chinese.

There is big resentment too over sharp increases in the prices of food and consumer goods from the rest of China. Many residents of Lhasa, suspicious of the new train service, which they felt might encourage immigration, had been comforted by what they say were official statements saying the rail link would help bring prices down. But they have kept on rising, as they have in other parts of the country.

Residents had mixed feelings about the violence. Some celebrated by throwing rolls of lavatory paper over wires across the streets, filling them with streamers intended to resemble traditional Tibet scarves. Others appeared aghast at the violence. As your correspondent spoke to a monk in the backroom of a monastery, a teenage boy rushed in and prostrated himself before him. He was a member of China’s ethnic-Han majority, terrified of the mobs outside. The monk helped him to hide.

The violence was fuelled by rumours of killings, beatings and detention of Buddhist monks by security forces in Lhasa this week. Access to the city’s big three monasteries has been blocked by police since the beginning of the week when hundreds of monks staged protests coinciding with the March 10th anniversary of the 1959 revolt. Dozens of them, residents believe, have been arrested. On Friday morning, rumours spread that monks had been shot dead outside the Jokhang temple, the holiest shrine of Tibetan Buddhism in the heart of the Tibetan quarter. A couple of monks outside another temple were said to have been beaten by police.

A handful of riot police with shields and helmets (but no guns visible) patrolled in front of the Jokhang as the riots continued around them, while others stood in lines at the perimeter of the riot-torn area. But for many hours they made no attempt to intervene. After nightfall, fire engines supported by two armoured personnel carriers, moved down the streets putting out the blazes. But the police carrying automatic rifles atop the armoured vehicles did not attempt to deploy on the streets. The occasional bang was heard, but it was difficult to tell whether it was shooting or explosions in the fires.

During the evening, Lhasa television broadcast over and over again, alternately in Tibetan and Chinese, a government statement accusing the “Dalai Lama clique” of being behind the violence by a “small number” of rioters. It called on city residents to support the authorities’ efforts to restore control.

But ensuring stability in Lhasa in the coming months will be an enormous challenge for China as it prepares for the Olympics. Many residents expect a massive deployment of security forces over the weekend and possibly a reintroduction of martial-law type restrictions, as in 1989 during the last serious outbreak of unrest in the city (some say the latest protests have been the biggest since 1959). But officials in Lhasa had been preparing to host growing numbers of foreign tourists and Olympic visitors this year. A long-term visible deployment of troops would be, to say the least, a big embarrassment for the Communist Party.


News analysis: top story

Lhasa under siege

Mar 16th 2008
From Economist.com
Our correspondent reports from Tibet

UNDER the gaze of troops armed with automatic rifles, bayonets and batons, residents of Lhasa’s old Tibetan quarter are now being allowed outdoors after many hours of cowering in their homes. Burnt-out buildings, smashed shop-fronts and piles of looted property are ubiquitous reminders of an orgy of anti-Chinese rioting. Lhasa is back under control, but with a heavy hand.

Security is particularly intense in the Tibetan quarter itself. Helmeted riot police are posted every few metres along its narrow, winding alleyways. Residents are subjected to identity checks as they walk around. In the heart of the district, in front of the Jokhang temple, which is Tibet’s holiest shrine, two armoured personnel carriers are parked. On the front of one big red Chinese characters read: “Stability is Happiness”. On the other it says “Separatism is Disastrous.”

The road around the temple, normally packed with pilgrims spinning their prayer wheels and murmuring prayers, is now nearly empty. At one point those trying to walk around it—an act of piety—were required to walk through a column of gun and baton-toting troops, one by one, and present their identity cards. Your correspondent saw several turned away—usually, it appeared, pilgrims from out of town—before the circuit was blocked to all. The pious had no choice but to turn back, retracing their steps around the temple in an anti-clockwise direction (to Tibetans unholy).

Beyond the Tibetan quarter, it is now possible to survey the full extent of the damage caused by the rioting of Friday and Saturday. It extends well into areas of the city where ethnic Han Chinese form the majority. Your correspondent saw a Bank of China branch with its windows smashed, the guardroom of the Tibet Daily, the Communist Party’s main mouthpiece in the region, similarly damaged, a multi-storey internet café gutted by fire, and shop after Chinese-owned shop burned or destroyed. The scale of the unrest was probably the biggest the city had seen since the Tibetan uprising of 1959 which prompted the Dalai Lama to flee into exile.

The troop presence in Lhasa is similarly extensive. Some are members of the People’s Armed Police, an anti-riot force. Some could be regular soldiers. China wants to give the impression that the unrest is being handled by the police. But the licence plates of some military-looking vehicles are covered or missing (army and police licence plates are readily distinguishable). They are patrolling along streets, stopping cars and pedestrians to check papers and sealing off some areas to all but residents. There must be hundreds if not thousands deployed.

Access to monasteries on the edge of Lhasa, where the unrest first began on Monday March 10th, remains blocked by police. Your correspondent was stopped several hundred metres away from the entrance to one of them, Sera, and was taken to a police station for brief questioning and inspection of documents before being released. Troops stopped him and deleted his photographs (foreigners, he said, were not allowed to take them). Government officials visited your correspondent at his hotel and advised him not to go out “for the sake of security”.

Some Han Chinese in the city remain nervous. A Han taxi driver (Hans, rather than Tibetans, dominate the taxi business) was reluctant to drive close to the Tibetan quarter despite the intense security. A Han shopkeeper more than a kilometre away from the Tibetan-dominated area said he would remain in Lhasa, his home for the past 20 years, but many other Hans would leave. A Han acquaintance, he said, had been knifed to death during the riots. An exodus of Hans—and a drying up of tourism from other parts of China—would deal a body blow to the city’s economy.

The authorities have set a deadline of midnight on Monday local time for rioters to hand themselves over (if they do so by then apparently they can expect more lenient treatment). This has aroused fears among Tibetans of widespread and indiscriminate arrests in the days to come. Some Tibetans say house-to-house searches and arrests have already started.

But the authorities are trying their best to give the outside world an impression of normality. Unlike their response to a big outbreak of anti-Chinese unrest in 1989, this time they have not declared martial law, nor even announced any curfew or measures to expel foreigners (some are being told by their Chinese travel agencies to leave, however). Your correspondent, the only foreign journalist with official permission to be in Lhasa (which was applied for and granted well before the unrest erupted) is still allowed to remain. But in practice the city’s daily life is being controlled by troops (from elsewhere in China), foreign journalists are being barred from entering and the most repressive measures in 20 years are in force.


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