China silences Tibet on Lhasa riot anniversary

Troops in full battle dress patrolled Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, on Saturday as the anniversary of last year's anti-Chinese protests and rioting in the city was marked largely with silence amid the heavy security.

The semi-official China News Service showed a photograph of two schoolchildren walking past a dozen soldiers in combat gear in the deserted Barkhor market street in the centre of Lhasa, reported dpa.

"Anniversary of the 'March 14' sacrifice: behind every statistic is grief and terror," said the agency's headline above a story that reflected the government's focus on the 18 Chinese civilian deaths in last year's rioting.

The official government website showed four photographs of central Lhasa that it said were taken Saturday.

Two photographs showed about 30 Tibetan pilgrims, most of them prostrating themselves, in front of the Dalai Lama's former residence, the Potala Palace, and the Jokhang, Tibet's most important Buddhist temple.

The other two photographs showed deserted streets outside rows of small shops.

A brief caption under the four photographs, in which no uniformed police or security personnel were seen, said they were designed to show that everything was "normal" in Lhasa.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, apparently the only overseas media to have a reporter in the city, said Friday that security forces in Lhasa and other Tibetan-populated areas of China had conducted house-to-house searches for "suspicious characters."

"Tensions were high ... as armed police continued their door-to-door checks for overseas visitors or journalists," the newspaper said.

Anyone in Lhasa without a local identity card faced questioning and possible detention, it said.

"Major monasteries have been sealed and armed police patrol the city day and night," the newspaper said.

It said police operated late-night road blocks in the city centre while "shops and entertainment venues were ordered to shut as early as 10 pm."

Local sources told the newspaper that a small protest broke out around Lhasa's Sera Monastery Monday, one day before Tuesday's 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

Two military vehicles of up to 100 armed police in anti-riot gear were outside the entrance to Sera on Friday, it said.

US-funded Radio Free Asia reported that a single Tibetan protestor on Tuesday shouted slogans in support of the exiled Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence in the town of Lithang in neighbouring Sichuan province.

The man was quickly bundled away by security forces, the broadcast said.

Paramilitary police sealed off almost all Tibetan areas of China to foreign journalists and tourists since Tuesday while the government has tightened border security, stepped up a propaganda drive and cut off some text-messaging and other mobile telephone services in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas.

Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday defended China's policies in Tibetan areas, saying they had achieved economic development and led to "peace and stability."

"The situation in Tibet is on the whole peaceful and stable," Wen told reporters in the first remarks by a top Chinese leader since Tuesday's anniversary.

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