Propaganda stumbles over Tibet defiance

Protest ?  monks at the Jokhang Temple yesterday.

Protest ? monks at the Jokhang Temple yesterday.
Photo: AP

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Mary-Anne Toy in Beijing
March 28, 2008

NEARLY 1000 people have surrendered to police following the riots and protests in Tibet and its neighbouring provinces, but an attempt by China to demonstrate control of both the unrest and the story backfired yesterday.

A propaganda trip to Lhasa, organised for selected foreign media, was disrupted by about 30 monks at the Jokhang Temple in the heart of the old Tibetan quarter. The monks managed to stage a brief protest in front of the 26 foreign reporters, who had been flown into the Tibetan capital on Wednesday for a three-day "guided visit" intended to highlight the extensive damage done to Han Chinese people and businesses by Tibetan mobs.

The visit was hastily organised by Beijing after international condemnation of its eviction of foreign media from Tibet and other Chinese provinces with big Tibetan populations. China had promised to allow foreign media access to all areas of China before the Olympics in August to report on any topics, not just sport, but that was rendered meaningless last week when scores of foreign journalists were evicted.

Foreign media have been banned from travelling independently to Tibet and have been harassed and ejected from the provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan, where dozens of sympathy protests have erupted. The protests through western China have prompted one of the biggest and longest mobilisations of police and other troops since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

The Financial Times, among those invited to Lhasa, reported yesterday that the "smell of burning buildings still hangs in the air" and that a string of shops and apartments were "reduced to charcoal frames".

"It is just one of many signs that the anti-Chinese riot which convulsed Tibet's ancient capital was far more aggressive, long-running and inflicted far more damage than any outsiders had previously realised. The neighbourhood remains under strict lockdown, with heavy police and military presence at every corner and shops, bars and restaurants shuttered. But the feel of a war-zone in the old quarter contrasts markedly with the bustling atmosphere of the Han Chinese-dominated new town," the paper said.

Foreign journalists on the trip to Lhasa said for the first few hours they were able to move around fairly freely, but few Tibetans were willing to talk openly about the protests and the resulting crackdown as there were patrols along all the main roads and riot police at the entrance to many alleys.

Calum McLeod, USA Today's China correspondent, who is on the trip, told the Herald last night that journalists who broke away from the group's official itinerary were being following by security forces but, so far, not stopped from trying to interview people. "But the climate of fear means it's very tough to get people to speak candidly and to get them on the record is even harder," he said.

McLeod said attempts to enter Ramoche and Drepung monasteries, not on the official itinerary, were thwarted by heavy police presence.

Sources said that a heavy troop presence remained in Xiahe, in Gansu, the site of the Labrang Monastery, and Shangri-la in northern Yunnan which has a large Tibetan population.

with agencies