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Peking paints Tibet's heritage red

THE magnificent 13-storey Potala Palace in Lhasa, once the winter residence of Dalai Lamas, today emerges from a five-year Chinese restoration programme unlikely to please its previous incumbents.

Li Tieying, a Politburo member, flew into the Tibetan capital this week to claim any credit on behalf of Peking for the preservation of Tibet's heritage. Not everyone is impressed. One Western tourist in Lhasa yesterday said: 'Renovation is too generous a word. They have redone a lot of the inside . . . there is a lot of bright red.'

The view from the 350-foot high 17th-century palace now takes in a vista where whole neighbourhoods of traditional Tibetan dwellings have been cleared to make way for drab modern Chinese buildings accommodating a flood of Han Chinese immigrants.

Four decades after China's 'peaceful liberation' of Tibet, Peking's propaganda machine hopes that the Potala renovations will improve its dismal international human rights image.

A national conference on Tibet held last month mapped out Peking's blueprint for Tibet's future: fast-paced economic development together with repression of any moves towards independence.

In the spirit of economic reform, today's ceremony, which comes at the end of the traditional Tibetan Xuedun (Yogurt) Festival, is being used by the Peking-installed Lhasa municipal government to entice foreign investors.

Lobsang Thundrup, the vice- governor of Tibet, told yesterday's China Daily that Lhasa was an open city - though foreign journalists are still rarely allowed access to it.