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Q&A | Protest in Tibet

Reasons for unrest are ancient

Police detain a pro-Tibet protester outside the Panathenian Stadium in Athens, Greece, during the Olympic flame handover Sunday. The flame arrived in Beijing today amid tight security.

Associated Press

Police detain a pro-Tibet protester outside the Panathenian Stadium in Athens, Greece, during the Olympic flame handover Sunday. The flame arrived in Beijing today amid tight security.

China's crackdown in Tibet in response to the most sustained uprising against Chinese rule in almost two decades has put China's human rights record in the spotlight ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. China says 22 people have been killed in Lhasa, while Tibetan exiles put the overall death toll at 140.

What's this about?

Old and new grievances. Many Tibetans have rejected Chinese rule since 1950, when its troops took control. A subsequent agreement guaranteed Tibetan autonomy and freedom to practice Buddhism, but with Chinese civil and military authorities in control in the capital, Lhasa. Things blew up into a full-scale rebellion in 1959, resulting in thousands of deaths and the Dalai Lama's flight to India.

In recent decades, Tibetans have felt left behind in China's economic boom, yet burdened with the affects of its inflation — rising prices. The influx of ethnic Han Chinese has altered Tibet's cultural and demographic look. Although China has invested in the economy, it remains China's poorest province. Rights groups point to the mistreatment of Tibetans and little actual religious or political freedom.

Why would China claim sovereignty over Tibet?

Beijing says Tibet became part of China in the mid 1200s. Tibetans generally argue that the remote Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and Chinese rule sporadic. In 1911, Tibetans forced out Chinese troops, but it wasn't until after the communists came to power in 1949 that China reasserted itself.

Who is the Dalai Lama?

It is a title given to the leader of an important spiritual line of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Through the years, Tibetans looked to the Dalai Lama for spiritual and political leadership. Tenzin Gyatso, the current and 14th Dalai Lama, assumed political responsibility in 1950. In 1959, he fled to Dharamsala, India, setting up an exile government. Keeping Tibet in the public eye, he has traveled the world advocating more autonomy, while stressing nonviolence. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. China on Sunday claimed it had proof that he is inciting the violence, which he denies.

How widespread is the violence?

There were confirmed reports of rioting in Lhasa on March 14, and it remains under lockdown. Protests and violence were later reported outside Tibet — where more than half of the 5.4-million Tibetans live — in areas of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces. The speaker of Tibet's parliament-in-exile, Karma Chophel, said Sunday that violence was continuing in Tibetan areas and urged the international community to do more to stop it.

What does China say?

China sees Tibetan hoodlums bent on breaking China apart. It moved against the protesters to defend law and order, not to suppress religious freedom, China's ambassador to the United States said last week.

Why now?

This protest ignited after Buddhist monks marched from monasteries in and around Lhasa on March 10 to mark the anniversary of the '59 uprising. Some were arrested, drawing more protests. Pent-up frustrations drew in the public. But Tibetan activists inside and outside China have said they want to bring pressure in advance of the Olympic Games in August. Protesters made their presence felt at the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece last week. Expect demonstrations when the torch relay reaches Mount Everest in May and Lhasa in June.

What has been the official U.S. reaction?

The White House said Wednesday that in a telephone call with China's President Hu Jintao, President Bush "pushed very hard" about a necessity for restraint and the need to consult with the Dalai Lama.

Sources: Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Manchester Guardian, BBC News, World Book and Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Reasons for unrest are ancient 03/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2008 3:46pm]
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