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Tibet Vows Trouble - Free Olympic Torch Relay

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Published: April 5, 2008

BEIJING- Tibet's Communist Party chief promised a trouble-free Olympic torch relay through the region, even as security forces struggled to stamp out violence in a nearby ethnic Tibetan area.

Just 125 days before the Olympic Games begin in Beijing, the evening news featured Tibetans saying they were pleased with China's development policies.

State-run television also ran a long programme on the life of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom China accuses of "splittist" activities.

In Paris, French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said President Nicolas Sarkozy would not attend the opening ceremony of the Games unless China opened talks with the Dalai Lama.

She said she understood the emotions sparked by Tibet and urged China to live up to its promises to promote human rights.

Many Western nations have urged Beijing to open a dialogue with the Tibetan leader, but China has rejected the idea and accused him of orchestrating the violence and pursuing Tibetan independence. The Dalai Lama says he wants only autonomy for his homeland.

Chinese security forces have locked down Tibet and neighboring provinces to quell anti-Chinese protests and riots that started in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in mid-March.

But as recently as Thursday night, eight people died when rioting hit an overwhelmingly Tibetan area of Sichuan province, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, a group based in Washington which backs self-determination for the region.

Police fired on a crowd of locals and Buddhist monks after monks at the Tongkor monastery in Ganzi (Garze) Prefecture were held by police searching for images of the Dalai Lama, the Campaign said on its Web site (www.savetibet.org).

The monastery is home to 350 monks, according to its Web site (www.donggusi.com). Phone calls to the monastery and local government offices were not answered.

An earlier report on the riot by China's official Xinhua news agency said an official had been injured but did not mention any deaths. Foreign reporters cannot travel there to test the claims.

TORCH FOR TIBET

Despite the tension, the hard-line Tibet Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, vowed a "faultless" passage for the Olympic Games torch when it passes through the region in coming weeks.

"Officials and masses from all ethnic groups must raise ethnic solidarity and make the successful passage of the torch through Tibet a heavy and glorious responsibility," Zhang said in a speech carried in the Tibet Daily on Saturday.

He said Lhasa was returning to normal after the unrest in mid-March, and again accused the Dalai Lama of inciting more violence.

The Olympic torch arrived in Beijing last month amid tight security, and will pass through Tibet in June after an international tour. Chinese climbers will try to carry a separate torch to the peak of Mt Everest, on the Tibet-Nepal border, early in May.

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