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Victims recount experience in riot in Lhasa
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18:56, March 20, 2008

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· Riot in Lhasa
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If all had gone according to plan, Mei Yan, scheduled to give birth in mid-March, would have been sleeping peacefully in her comfortable home, greeting the arrival of a new life.

Her rosy dream was shattered by a fire that destroyed her house last Friday in Southwest China's Tibet Plateau, the peak of the world. The fire wasn't a naturally occurring one; it was ignited by mobs in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.

Lying restlessly in an ordinary room at the Rescue Station of Lhasa, Mei Yan remained fearful. "My child is to come into the world soon, but I have no idea where we will go," said Mei Yan sadly, stroking her belly.

The homeless mother-to-be, who came from neighboring Gansu Province a year ago with her husband to run a small restaurant near the mosque of the old downtown area of the plateau city, fearfully recalled how she saw home burned.

At about 2 p.m., Mei Yan was helping her parents serve customers. Suddenly, a hue and cry erupted outside. Her brother Dawuda rushed in yelling "shut the door, there's a riot."

Mei Yan rushed to slam the door. The family climbed to the second floor of the restaurant, where they lived. Outside the window, they saw scores of 20-something Tibetans hurling stones at shop doors along the street. The mob soon tried to open the iron roller door of Mei Yan's restaurant. When they failed, they threw bottles of gasoline through windows to burn the restaurant.

"I shook in my shoes and dared not utter a sound," said Mei Yan. "I heard the restaurant burning downstairs and the smoke nearly choked us." Fortunately, the police showed up shortly. "We got away in one piece. But the restaurant is gone."

Mei Yan and her family survived the violence by "a small number of rioters," as stated by Doji Cezhug, the mayor of Lhasa, are among thousands of Lhasa residents whose lives were threatened last Friday afternoon.

The mobs swarmed the commercial streets of Bargor, Linkuo, Seraand the Ngaqen Road, Second Ring Road and Beijing Middle Road in downtown Lhasa to smash, stone, loot and set fire.

Thirteen innocent civilians were burned or stabbed to death, and 325 people were injured. Damage has increased to more than 200 million yuan (about 28 million U.S. dollars), according to the Tibetan regional government. The violence damaged 422 shops, six hospitals, seven schools and 120 homes, and 84 vehicles were torched.

"The severe violence and riot in Lhasa is neither a social security problem, nor an ethnic problem," said Ragdi, former vice-chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's parliament.

"The riot was maliciously incited into bloody violence on purpose to pressure the Chinese government [and] undermine the upcoming Beijing Olympics," said Ragdi.

Since March 10, more than 300 monks from the Zhaibung Monastery have ventured into downtown Lhasa. The monks, who were supposedly adherents of peace, aggressively confronted security forces. It was the anniversary of an earlier event: on March 10, 1959, Lhasa witnessed a failed rebellion aimed at the secession of Tibet from the motherland.

At Sera Monastery, 10 monks held up flags of the so-called Tibetan exile government and shouted "Tibetan independence". In the ensuing days, some monks chanted independence slogans and challenged officers who were maintaining order.

On the same day that the 300 ventured into downtown Lhasa, groups of monks started a "March to Tibet" from across the border in India.

The Dalai clique maintained real-time contacts, sources say, through varied channels with the rioters in Lhasa, and dictated instructions to his devotees and coordinated their moves.

Rioters came with backpacks full of stones and flammable liquids. They were well-organized and not spontaneous, as the Dalai clique claimed.

According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, the Dalai Lama always wrongly claims that Tibet is a nation occupied by China, denying the fact that the region has historically been apart of China.

The lawbreakers, killing innocent people and disturbing social order, aroused strong condemnation from people of all ethnic groups in Tibet.

"Religion advocates care and mercy, but the reckless rioters attacked hospitals and child-entertainment centers," said Cering Doje, deputy director of the religion research institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences (TASS). "They seemed to have lost basic humanity, and there was no mercy at all."

The 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu, said on Sunday that the violence in Lhasa ran counter to Buddhist tenets.

Ngawang Daindzin, a living Buddha, said that "the rioters who wore cassocks were no real monks at all. What they did is completely against Buddhist codes."

"In Tibet, development is the priority of all work and maintaining a stable society is our responsibility. I hold that stability comes first," said Ragdi.

As the riot burst out last Friday, the regional government immediately organized task forces to put out the fires and rescue the injured and strengthened protection of hospitals, schools, banks and government offices.

"Throughout the process, security forces did not carry or use any destructive weapons, but tear gas and water cannons were employed," said Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government. Reportedly, 61 police were injured, six seriously.

Tibetan law enforcement authorities issued a notice last Saturday, urging lawbreakers in the Friday riot to stop criminal activities and offering leniency to those who surrendered. The Tibet regional government said that 170 people had surrendered to police by 10 p.m. on Wednesday.

Doje Cering, a 25-year-old villager, stoned a red sedan and a white van. He said he was drunk at home that day when he heard someone shouting "get out, or we will burn down your house." Then he just blindly followed them.

Gyaincain, 53, said he came out when he heard people shouting "all people out, or be burned by fire." He said: "I just followed them. I was very disturbed by what I did. My family has persuaded me to turn myself in to the police," he said.

"These people will not go unpunished by law in any country," said Qiangba, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government. "For those who committed minor offenses and showed repentance, we will educate them; for those who initiated and committed serious crimes in the riot, they will be sternly punished in accordance with the law."

The government's measures have borne fruit. As of Monday, traffic on the main Lhasa streets had resumed. Government bodies, businesses, schools and major farm produce markets are operating normally, said Doje Cezhug, the mayor of Lhasa.

Local residents, who remained at home for two days, started to come out and get some fresh air in parks and streets.

After shutting the door for three days, a shop owner surnamed Xie re-opened his spacious hair salon on North Duosenge Road on Tuesday. "It is too boring to hide for days on end. I also have to make money to maintain the salon. It is a pity we have too few customers today," said Xie.

Not far from Xie's salon, three lads were unloading milk from a truck to re-stock the Sifang Supermarket, a place frequented by local housewives.

To the side of the supermarket gate, a peddler surnamed Li hawked a pedicab of withered bananas at half-price. "I stocked these bananas last week. I used to sell bananas for eight yuan per kilogram. Now I have to clear them as I was stranded at home these past few days."

At the Sifang, Hongyan and Baiyi supermarkets in downtown Lhasa, residents took their time buying fruit, vegetables, oils and other daily necessities, showing no signs of panic buying.

"No one seems to have come here to stock up," said Li Yan, administration manager of Baiyi supermarket, which resumed operations on Monday. "Customers and sales are a little under our average level."

Despite the fright and losses, damaged businesses have largely set out to rebuild.

"I have been in Tibet for 25 years, and Lhasa has become my second home," said Jia Fuqing, a business coming from east China's Zhejiang Province. Jia has sold children's clothing and toys in Lhasa for 23 years. Step by step, he has expanded his business into a four-story kids' supermarket, known as the Blue Shield, at the North Duosengge Road.

His market was burned last Friday. Garments and shoes were destroyed by fire on the first and second floors; goods on the third and fourth floors were damaged beyond use by smoke.

"I have lost about eight million yuan from ruined goods and the expenses to rebuild the supermarket," said Jia, counting on his fingers. "Anyway, I will not leave my second home; I believe in the government."

Tuesday morning, Jia bought six sets of roller doors and had them installed.

"My whole family is living in Lhasa. My child was born and raised here. I will continue business here. I do not have much money on hand to rebuild my market, but I will re-open it even if to borrow money," said Jia.


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