China keeps a wary eye on yoghurt drinkers

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Scores of Chinese troops were on hand to keep watch as Tibetans celebrated the annual Shoton, or Yoghurt, festival.

Murmuring Buddhist scripture and spinning hand-held prayer wheels, tens of thousands of people crowded the hills around the Drepung monastery, Tibet's largest, yesterday for the annual unveiling of a 35m by 30m silk embroidered image of the Buddha.

The gathering, which has its origins in the 17th century and comes in the sixth month of the Tibetan year, is one of the most important festivals in the Buddhist calendar.

During the celebrations, opera troupes performfor tourists and pilgrims. The police presence reflects China's mistrust of the monasteries, believing some to be supporters of Tibetan independence.

Before the festival Buddhists go to the mountains to prepare themselves. On the way back they meet up with relatives, drink yoghurt and perform traditional dances.