- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

CHENGDU, CHINA (AP) - Paramilitary and plainclothes police blanketed the Tibetan capital with patrols and checkpoints Saturday, imposing what witnesses called a tense calm on the first anniversary of a violent anti-Chinese riot.

Lhasa residents said police with rifles or batons marched around the Jokhang Temple and the adjacent Barkhor Square in the old city, where protesters ran rampant last year. A Hong Kong tourist said two military helicopters hovered over the city in the morning _ a rare sight _ and that officers demanded to see identification at checkpoints.

“I was constantly stopped for identity check in the past few days,” said the tourist, who only wanted to be identified by his surname, Chu, because of the heavy security. “I was stopped twice last night on my way back to my hotel from dinner.”

The Communist Party secretary of China’s Tibetan government defended the heavy troop presence as necessary to quell any separatist violence, which the government accuses supporters of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, of inciting.

“We face a very serious and complicated situation, and the mission shouldered by the troops is sacred and honorable,” the official Tibet Daily’s Web site quoted party secretary Zhang Qingli as saying. The armed forces “should thoroughly foil the intrigues and plots of the Dalai clique that attempt to split the motherland and make Tibet unstable.”

The riot erupted on March 14, 2008, after four days of largely peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks that called on China to allow the Dalai Lama to return. Tibetans torched and ransacked Chinese businesses in violence the government says killed 22, mostly Chinese. Tibetans, however, say many more died in the ensuing crackdown.

The violence touched off protests in Tibetan communities in Tibet and neighboring provinces that sputtered on for weeks _ the largest uprising against Chinese rule in decades.

Since then, China has kept a swath of western China ringed with troops and checkpoints, imposing a form of martial law and an information blockade. Foreigners and foreign media have been barred from the media for much of the period, and in some areas Internet and mobile phone text-messaging services have been cut.

Several media outlets from the Chinese territory in Hong Kong, however, managed to get reporters into Lhasa for the anniversary. Hong Kong RTHK radio posted photos on its Web site showing shuttered shops around the Jokhang temple while armed police with automatic rifles patrolled nearby.

The South China Morning Post carried reports from an unidentified staff reporter describing door-to-door inspections of hotels and neighborhoods to round up “suspicious people.”

The extraordinary security and government secrecy has left unexplained key parts of the uprising and its suppression while leaving some Tibetans more resentful of Chinese rule.

“The Chinese government has never given a full and detailed account of the protests and of the response by the security forces,” said a report released this week by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “The number and extent of protests that took place, as well as the details of how they escalated and how the security forces responded, remain unknown.”

Aside from the 22 deaths in Lhasa, Beijing has acknowledged other deaths occurred in clashes in other Tibetan communities, but has never provided a full tally. Meanwhile, the exiled Tibetan government in India said the suppression of the uprising left 220 Tibetans dead and nearly 7,000 detained.

Also unexplained is how Chinese security lost control of Lhasa. March is often a volatile period in Tibet. Last year’s protests began March 10, the 49th anniversary of the abortive revolt against China that caused the Dalai Lama to flee, and Lhasa’s always large contingent of security forces had stopped smaller protests for four days when they were seemingly overwhelmed by mobs of Tibetans.

Outside Lhasa, police opened fire on crowds of Tibetans in parts of Sichuan province counties of Aba and Ganzi during later protests, according to witnesses and overseas Tibet support groups.

On Saturday residents of those counties and other communities that saw protests described security arrangements Saturday similar to those in Lhasa. Police in the overwhelmingly Chinese provincial capital of Chengdu blocked traffic into the city’s Tibetan neighborhood, and plainclothes police followed foreign reporters.

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