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Chinese government has moved some 300,000 Tibetan farmers and herders from 57,800 families into permanent brick houses in Tibet this year, under a government-led program, Chinese state-controlled news agency said Saturday, a controversial practice rights groups say has been marked by gross abuses.

“Another 312,000 farmers and herders from 57,800 families moved from shanty homes into new solid brick houses in Tibet this year under a government-subsidized housing project aimed at improving living conditions,” China’s Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.

“I only spent 18,000 yuan (2,647 U.S. dollars) on the construction of my new house, and the rest, totaling more than 40,000 yuan, were all granted by the government,” the report cited Drolkar, a resident of the Yamda Village near Tibetan capital Lhasa as saying.

The report said, like Drolkar, all 208 families in the village moved into new brick houses this year.

To date, 860,000 farmers and herders from 170,000 families have moved into the new houses, the government statistics show, the report said.

The report said the five-year housing project was started in 2006 with a plan to build “solid homes for 220,000 families”

Once finished, it would mean housing for 80 percent of the region’s farmers and herders by the end of 2010, the report said of the controversial resettlement program that recalls the socialist engineering of an earlier era.

China calls the project the “comfortable housing program,” and its stated aim is to present a more modern face for Tibet, which China has controlled since 1950 after sending troops to occupy the region.

It claims that the new housing on main roads, sometimes only a mile from previous homes, will enable small farmers and herders to have access to schools and jobs, as well as for the sake of ecological conservation and for the health of the farmers and herders.

Saying Tibet has been experiencing double-digit economic growth for the last 16 years; the Xinhua report quoted a communist official as saying: “Farmers and herds people re the beneficiaries of the economic development” under China.

Independent reports however, indicate otherwise.

China’s broader aim seems to be remaking Tibet – a region with its own culture, language and religious traditions – in order to have firmer political control over its population.

Forceful resettlement of nomadic Tibetans in Tibet and in adjacent ethnic Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces actually began way back in 2000 and have taken place more intensively since 2003.

Observers say the massive mass relocation is linked to Beijing’s effort, launched in 1999, to develop China’s poor, restive west and bind it to the bustling east. Since then, human rights groups say, China has also been forcing nomadic Tibetan herders to settle in towns to clear land for development, while leaving many unable to earn living.

To prepare for an influx of millions of tourists in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the resettlement drive was more vigorously implemented across the Tibetan plateau.

Ahead of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese state media reported of increasing relocation of nomadic herdsmen in Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) into fixed residences, but said they were done so to help protect the environment and boost their living standards.

Between 2006 and 2007 alone, Chinese government relocated some 250,000 Tibetan farmers and herders, nearly one-tenth of the population, to resettle to new “socialist villages” from scattered rural hamlets. Reports show they were often ordered to build new housing largely at their own expense and without their consent.

In doing so, these Tibetan nomads have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyles with many driven to frustration and despair, unable to cope up with the pressures of earning their livelihood through means alien to their traditions and upbringing.

Also resettlement often involve the slaughter of animals belonging to the mostly nomadic herders, relocation to poorly built accommodation and inability to find work due to lack of skills, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said its June 2007 report.

Others are forcibly evicted to make room for public works projects, like dams and roads, the group said in the report.

China says its presence in Tibet has resulted in modernization of the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan country.

Critics rubbish the claim and say modernisation in Tibet has been crushingly imposed by the Chinese authorities along with draconian measures that restrict freedom of expression, freedom to follow a religion of choice and curtailment of opportunity.

While pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into road-building and development projects in Tibet, China is maintaining a large military presence and keeping close tabs on the citizenry through a vast security apparatus of cameras and informants on urban streets and in the monasteries to contain its tight grip on the restive Himalayan region and to quell any impending demonstrations, like the one that broke out in March, against its rule.

Xinhua’s latest report on relocation of Tibetans appears to be part of a major propaganda drive on Tibet launched by China last month to highlight what it calls the “social and economic development of Tibet over the last 30 years.”

Chinese media report last month said starting November 5th China’s top nine state-run media, including the official Xinhua news agency and People’s Daily Online, will start “a series report on the last 30 years of Tibet after the reform and opening-up policy in China.”

The massive state-sponsored drive was described as a move to “help international readers to better understand Tibet”. The report said the purposeful coverage activity on Tibet would be jointly sponsored by the Publicity Department of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the Publicity Department of the Party Committee of TAR, with the network sponsorship of China Tibet Information Centre.

The release last week of a human rights manifesto signed by hundreds of mainland scholars, lawyers and ex-officials has prompted a stern response from Chinese authorities who have jailed one signer and contacted dozens.

Charter 08, which takes its title and inspiration from the “Charter 77” document that demanded rights for Czechoslovakia in 1977, called for an extensive list of rights in China, including free speech, freedom to form political parties, an independent legal system and direct elections. The 4,000-word document was released during a time of several sensitive anniversaries, including 100 years after the promulgation of China’s first constitution, 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 30 years after Beijing’s “Democracy Wall” movement. The charter was first signed by 303 intellectuals living in China, a number that has since grown to more than 3,000.

On December 8, the day before Charter 08 was posted on a U.S.-based Chinese web site, Beijing police arrested Liu Xiaobo, a dissident and one of the document’s authors and signers. His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, says Liu is still being held incommunicado over a week later, and police have not revealed his whereabouts. Liu’s supporters fear he could be charged with the offense of “inciting subversion of state power.” Beijing-based activist Hu Jia was convicted of the same in April and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that Washington was “deeply concerned by reports that Chinese citizens have been detained, interrogated and harassed” since the document’s publishing, and was “particularly concerned about the well being of Liu Xiaobo.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists on Dec. 16 that the U.S. position was another example of an unwelcome “interference of other nations in China’s internal affairs.”

At least 39 signatories in Beijing, Shanghai and eight provinces have been questioned, trailed or had their movements restricted by police, says the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an activist group. “This is a big thing, if only measuring by the reaction of the authorities,” says Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for the group Human Rights Watch. “One thing the [Communist] Party is very worried about is to have the loyalty of the intellectuals and the academics.”

The document has reignited a debate that has recently bubbled through the commentary pages of Chinese newspapers over the nature of “universal values.” Opinion writers have argued whether pluralism is a western creation with limited application to China, or a political ideal for all nations. Columnist Sima Nan wrote on his blog that the charter was a dangerous attempt to promote a Chinese “color revolution,” referring to pro-democracy movements in Ukraine and Georgia.

Bao Tong, a former assistant to purged Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang and one of the charter’s signers, acknowledged that it backed western values, but said that China had relied on similar ideas for reform in the past. “If studying the West is illegal, then we should arrest the people talking about the market economy, because that comes from the West,” he says. “We should arrest the Communist Party, because political parties come from the West.”

Bao, who is now retired and lives under close state scrutiny, says the charter had been compiled over several months with the input of several people who offered suggestions and revisions. It was still being revised when the arrest of Liu prompted its early release. Bao accused the authorities of arresting Liu to intimidate others who might encourage political reform. “If signing the charter is illegal, then all us 300 plus have broken the law,” he says. “It’s nonsense.”

The timing of the charter’s release is sensitive not just because of the significant anniversaries this year, but because the global economic slowdown has increased the potential for political unrest in China. Thousands of factories in the south have closed, and demonstrations by workers over unpaid wages have become a frequent scene in the regions of the country that have been driving China’s double-digit growth. China’s exports dropped last month for the first time in seven years, and as many as 9 million migrant workers are estimated to be returning home due to the slowdown. The World Bank and others say growth next year could drop to below 8%, a number that the government needs to maintain to prevent a destabilizing level of unemployment. Economists warn that even if China makes its 2009 targets, the first half of the year could see much slower growth than the second. And while this year’s sensitive anniversaries will be past, next June will mark another, the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

For fifty years, Tibet has been a largely silent world, one where no Tibetan speaks out openly. But in 2003 the Tibetan poet Woeser stepped forward from the shadows with Notes on Tibet, a set of uniquely frank essays on modern life which, though quickly suppressed, were followed by major works of poetry, reportage, history, and cyberjournalism. She found herself compelled to move from Lhasa to Beijing, where, under constant harassment by the authorities, she has continued, as if without fear, to produce work that is honest, lyrical, and daring.

Here are a couple of her poems:

“Remembering a Battered Buddha

Twenty days since I left Lhasa
But still I see that statue of the Buddha with its face bashed in.
It was on a street vendor’s stand in front of the Tromsikhang neighborhood office.
I noticed it from a distance.
I’d gone to Tromsikhang Market to buy droma,
But at the sight a sudden grief assailed me.
I drew closer—couldn’t help it—to this thing so crushed:
It seemed alive, leaning against a shelf in agony,
The face hammered, an arm hacked off, the whole figure chopped off at the waist.
Hurting so bad, leaning against a rack of the goods
That surrounded it: soy sauce, bean jam, salad dressing, and roll after roll of toilet paper,
All introduced into our life long ago from inland China.
Around its neck an ornament, once exquisite, inlaid with colored stones,
And at its chest a wondrous beast with lion head and body of man,
Stacked on a fragmentary chorten.
In what sacred shrine or pious home were these things once venerated?
Hurting so bad and leaning against the rack of merchandise,
It emanated the calm of still waters, but pain stabbed into my marrow:
As I looked on in grief, I sensed a story being played out
That had both a present and a past.
I was moved by the shadowy fate that had brought us together,
As if melted snow from the high peaks had filled my being.
Hugging his knees, the peddler made a pitch:
“Come on, buy it! Don’t the old buddha look grand?”
“When did it get beat up like this?” I asked.
“Cultural Revolution, obviously!” he glanced up, “Had to be the Cultural Revolution.”
“How much?” I wanted to buy it, to take it home,
But this peddler from Jiangxi wouldn’t budge from three thousand.
So with reluctance and regret, and many an afterthought,
I left that broken buddha streaming rays of pain.
I only took some pictures,
So when I miss it I can turn on my computer and have a look.
Friends say it may have been a brand-new buddha, wrecked thus
To fetch a higher price, and the link to the Cultural Revolution was a fiction.
Maybe so; but the hurt remains.
I wrote these lines to try to let it go.

May 14, 2007
Beijing”

“On the Road

On the road with edgy mind,
I’ll flee the chaos of this floating world,
Pick a place to settle,
Find choice words
To tell this passing turn of the Wheel.

On the road one meets by chance
Men and women of immense dignity;
One’s natural pride is humbled.
The ruins that overspread Tibet with shadows dark as night
Have a nobility not found in ordinary men.

Among those encounters:
One dear to me, long−lost,
Brilliant, uncompromising,
Neglected.
I, too, am pure and honest;
Mine, too, a sincere and gentle heart;
I wish as seasons change I could change with them.
No need for gifts to one another;
We are the gifts.

On the road, an elder of my people says:
“Golden flowers bloomed on golden mountain;
While golden flowers bloomed, he did not come;
And when he came, the flowers had died.
Silver flowers bloomed on silver mountain;
While silver flowers bloomed, he did not come;
And when he came, the flowers had died.”

On the road, walking alone.
An old book without a map,
A pen, not much to eat,
Ballads from a foreign land:
These will suffice. On the road,
I see a black horse
Who does not bow his head to graze but shakes his hooves,
Vexed that he can’t run free.
Yet also, deep in meditation caves among the vast mountains,
The hidden forms of men.
What sort of heart will honor and revere them?

On the road, a pious mudra’s not complex,
But it ill suits a tainted brow.
A string of special mantras is not hard,
But they’re jarring, from lips stained with lies.

On the road,
I clutch a flower not of this world,
Hurrying before it dies, searching in all directions,
That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe.
A wish−fulfilling jewel,
A wisp of a smile:
These bind the generations tight.

May 1995
Lhasa”

“The Past

This snow−clad mountain, melting, is not my snow mountain.
My snow mountains are the mountains of the past,
Far at the sky’s edge, holy and pure:
Many a lotus, eight petals opening,
Oh, many a lotus, eight petals opening.

This lotus, withering, cannot be my lotus.
My lotus is the lotus of the past,
Enfolding the snow mountains, lovely,
Many a prayer flag, five colors fluttering,
Oh, many prayer flags, five colors fluttering.

The past, the past… such a past!
A host of divinities sheltered our homeland
As a lama keeps watch over souls,
As a mastiff stands guard by the tent.
But the host of divinities is long gone, now,
The host of divinities is long gone.

September 2002
Yunnan, in sight of Mt. Khawa Karpo”

China said Thursday a meeting of Tibetan exiles in India next week would “get nowhere”, saying the participants did not represent the views of most Tibetans. China also warned India from allowing such separatist activities on its soil. 

“The people planning or attending this meeting do not represent the majority of the Chinese people. Their separatist attempts will get nowhere,” AFP reported Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang telling reporters in Beijing. 

“The Chinese government is solemnly against any international activities aimed at splitting China,” Qin said in response to a question on Beijing’s attitude toward the gathering at a regularly scheduled new conference.

Many exiles are impatient with the Dalai Lama’s call for “meaningful autonomy” for his homeland and there are growing calls for outright independence from China. 

“The Indian government has made solemn commitments on several occasions that (it) does not allow any activities on its soil aimed at dividing (China),” Qin said, when asked about the meeting at the press briefing. “We hope that this commitment can be fulfilled,” Qin added. 

More than 500 leading Tibetan exiles will gather for a “special meeting” in Dharamsala, which serves as the base for the Tibetan Government-in-exile, next week to discuss the future of their freedom movement.

The meeting is the largest of its kind in 60 years and was called by the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama in response to lack of any signs of progress in the dialogue process and the worsening state of affairs within Tibet following widespread anti-China protests that broke out in the region earlier this year. 

The Dalai Lama last month said he was losing “faith and trust” in dealing with Beijing for a negotiated settlement over the future of Tibet. The Dalai Lama complained, even after pursuing his middle-way policy of seeking “real and meaningful” autonomy for Tibet for a long time, there hasn’t been any positive response from the Chinese side.

The gathering will be held Nov. 17 to 22. 

India, which shares close historical, cultural and religious ties with Tibet, has been home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees after the Dalai Lama and his supporters fled to India in 1959 following a failed anti-China uprising in the region. 

The latest round of talks between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama ended inconclusively this month, with Beijing emphatically ruling out every Tibetan proposal for a greater autonomy within the constitutional framework of PRC.

Five pro-Tibet activists unfurled a banner spelling out “Free Tibet” in English and Chinese in bright blue LED “throwie” lights in Beijing’s Olympic Park tonight. The five were detained by security personnel after displaying the banner for about 20 seconds at 11:48 pm August 19th. Their whereabouts are unknown.

 

The detained activists are Americans Amy Johnson, 33, Sam Corbin, 24, Liza Smith, 31, Jacob Blumenfeld, 26, and Lauren Valle, 21.

“The Chinese government is desperate to turn the world’s attention away from its abuses in Tibet as the Olympics take place, but the creativity and determination of Tibetans and their supporters has once again ensured that Tibetan voices are heard and seen in Beijing despite the massive security clampdown,” said Tenzin Dorjee, Deputy Director of Students for a Free Tibet. “The Chinese leadership must realize that the only way it can make the issue of Tibet disappear is to acknowledge the demands of the Tibetan people and work with them to bring an end to China’s occupation of Tibet.”

The lights used on the banner are blue 10 mm light-emitting diodes (LEDs) powered by small batteries, commonly known as “throwies.” Throwies are open-source technology attributed to OpenLab and Graffiti Research Lab, developed as a means of creating non-destructive graffiti and light displays. This is the first time ever that they have been used on a banner. James Powderly, free speech activist and co-founder of the Graffiti Research Lab (GRL), was detained in Beijing early this morning (link).

Students for a Free Tibet has staged seven protests in Beijing over the last two weeks, placing the issue of Tibet’s occupation front and centre as China hosts the Olympic Games. The protests have included a dramatic banner hang near the Bird’s Nest Stadium; a display of Tibetan flags near the Bird’s Nest just before the opening ceremony began; a symbolic die-in at Tiananmen Square; a protest by a Tibetan woman with flags outside Tiananmen Square; a blockade of the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park; and “Free Tibet” banner hang outside the CCTV headquarters. Thirty-seven members and supporters have been detained and deported, not including those detained today.

Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) is a network of young people and activists campaigning for Tibetan independence, with 700 chapters in more than 30 countries worldwide. SFT’s international headquarters are in New York, with offices in Toronto, London, and Dharamsala, India.

Contacts: In Asia, Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director, and Kate Woznow, Campaigns Director, +1 917 289 0219 or +44 20 7084 6245

Watch video here.

PARIS, Aug 16 – The Dalai Lama said on Saturday China was mistreating and torturing civilians in Tibet while the Olympic Games were going on.

“Unfortunately the Olympic spirit is not being respected at all by Chinese officials in Tibet,” he said in an interview on France’s TF1 television, when asked if the tradition of an Olympic truce was being respected.

“There are restrictions on the circulation of information, very strong censorship,” he said.

“Civilians are often arrested, violently tortured to the point where they die. It’s really very, very sad,” he said.

The Dalai Lama is on a two-week visit to France, mostly focused on religious commitments. He has made few political comments but he criticised China’s actions in Tibet at a meeting on Wednesday with French legislators.

The visit has triggered a domestic row in France, where critics accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy of caving into Chinese pressure by declining to meet him.

On Saturday he met Sarkozy’s challenger in last year’s presidential election, Segolene Royal, who said she intended to visit Tibet.

Foreign activists have staged a number of protests in Beijing to highlight what they say is repression of Tibetans in the Himalayan region but the Dalai Lama has appealed to supporters not to disrupt the Games.

BEIJING: Activists wrapped themselves in Tibetan flags on Saturday and lay down in Tiananmen Square in a protest that was angrily rejected by Chinese onlookers who followed the group and shouted “Get out!” The demonstration by five members of Students for a Free Tibet was a breach of heavy security in the heart of Beijing on the first full day of competition in the Olympic Games.

The protesters, three American, a Canadian and a German, “were calling for an end to the Chinese government’s occupation in Tibet,” according to Lhadon Tethong, executive director of the New York-based group. They clasped each others’ hands and walked around the square, chanting “Freedom for Tibet,” and “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet” , a play off a Beijing Olympics motto, according to a video footage.

While their protest was initially regarded with curiosity by onlookers, a group of young Chinese men suddenly started shouting “Get out! Get out!” and began aggressively surrounding the foreigners, the footage showed. Some wore red and yellow headbands, China’s national colors.

They eventually were separated from the protesters by men who appeared to be plainclothes security agents and were led away, said John Hocevar, a member of Students for a Free Tibet who was videotaping the protest. He said he did not know where they were taken. Officials at the Beijing Public Security Bureau and Tiananmen Square police station would not comment.

The action came a day after three Americans from the group were detained while displaying Tibetan flags near the entrance to National Stadium, which hosted the opening ceremony for the games Friday night. They were deported Saturday on flights to New York, the group said. On Wednesday, four other members hung pro-Tibet banners from two light poles outside the stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest. They were led away by police and later deported to Europe and the United States.

“The Chinese government is seeking to cover up its ugly occupation of Tibet with the bright lights of the Olympics,” Matt Whitticase, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement on Saturday. Also on Saturday, security officers in Hong Kong removed a university student who tried to display the Tibetan flag during the Olympics equestrian competition.

Seated in the front row, the student, Christina Chan, displayed a placard bearing the Canadian flag. When she tried to peel away the Canadian flag to reveal a Tibetan flag beneath it, security officers covered her with a blue cloth and asked her to leave. They carried her out of the venue after she refused.

Pro-Tibet activists around the world have staged demonstrations in the run-up to the Summer Games, claiming China is using the sporting event to legitimize its rule in Tibet. Tibet has been an extremely sensitive topic since protests against almost 50 years of Chinese rule turned violent in the region’s capital of Lhasa in March. Many Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.