Resistance snuffed out as Olympic torch tours Tibet

By Clifford Coonan
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:22

China paraded the Olympic torch through the streets of Lhasa at the weekend in a blaze of red flags, eager to present a picture of national unity and domestic harmony just three months after the Tibetan provincial capital was rocked by anti-Chinese riots.

With the Olympic Games to begin in Beijing on 8 August, senior Chinese Communist Party officials in charge of the restive province used the opportunity of the torch relay to denounce the Dalai Lama and underline China's tight grip on the Himalayan region. "Tibet's sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it," said Zhang Qingli, the hardliner who heads Tibet's Communist Party. "It is certain we will be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama's clique."

Mr Zhang was speaking at a ceremony to mark the end of the two-hour torch procession through Lhasa, which ended under tight security just below the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former home and a key symbol of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's religious influence in Tibet.

A handpicked crowd of onlookers watched the Olympic flame pass through the streets of Lhasa, and groups of Tibetan and ethnic Han Chinese students waved Olympic banners, the Chinese national flag, and the hammer and sickle banner of the Communist Party.

A tightly controlled group of foreign media representatives was allowed watch the relay, which was dogged by protests during its route through London, Paris and other Western cities. Lhasa was locked down and shops were closed as the authorities sought to avoid any repetition. Police and soldiers kept a close watch on the groups of residents chosen to cheer the torch.

Chinese media said the torch passed through Lhasa "in a joyful and peaceful atmosphere". It now heads to the neighbouring province of Qinghai, home to many ethnic Tibetans.

There has been a huge outpouring of sympathy for China in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, which left 80,000 dead or missing, and the relatively open way in which China responded to the tragedy.

But the torch relay, particularly the way it has been run through Tibet, is a reminder of some of the knotty international issues that arose from China's crackdown on monks and other anti-Chinese demonstrators during the March protests.

The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and is based in Dharamsala in northern India, fled Lhasa in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, nine years after Communist troops entered the remote, mountainous region.

Beijing accuses the exiled leader of inciting the Lhasa protests and riots that spread to other Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Gansu provinces. The government says the Dalai Lama wants to undermine the Beijing Olympics, a charge he denies.

Since the protests, his envoys have held talks with Beijing's representatives about finding a solution.

Following the flame

*24 March, Olympia

Torch is lit in Greece, but event disrupted by protesters.

*6 April, London

First major disruption as 37 are arrested and demonstrator tries to grab torch from the TV presenter Konnie Huq.

*7 April, Paris

Many demonstrators turn up to planned protests and route has to be cut short.

*17 April, Delhi

Route scaled back amid security concerns. More than 100 demonstrators held by thousands of police and soldiers who line the route.

*24 April, Canberra

Protesters attend the event, although tight security prevents any major incidents. Part of the route is sealed off with steel fences.

*26 April, Nagano

Two protesters try to grab the torch and a third throws eggs at the flame.

*27 April, Seoul

Pro and anti-China demonstrators clash in South Korea despite 8,000 security officers being posted along the torch route.

*29 April, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The relay through the last city before China is peaceful and only a handful of activists are arrested. There is heavy security.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments