China marks 'emancipation' of Tibet with holiday

China marked its inaugural Serfs’ Emancipation Day on Saturday with testimonials by Tibetans on the merits of Communist rule, denunciations of the Dalai Lama and vows to crush any attempts at independence.

China declared the annual public holiday in Tibet earlier this year, marking the date in 1959 when Chinese troops took direct control of the government in Lhasa after being brought in to quell an uprising.

In a carefully choreographed ceremony held on a sprawling public square beneath Lhasa’s Potala Palace, the government projected its message that its rule brought an end to a cruel feudal system and has improved Tibetans’ lives ever since.

Roughly a year after deadly riots shook Lhasa and triggered waves of protests in ethnic Tibetan areas, an audience of about 13 000 Tibetans sat in neat rows as a former serf, a student, military officials and the region’s top leaders spoke on the horrors of the “old Tibet” and the merits of Beijing’s rule.

Zhang Qingli, the region’s Communist Party chief, delivered the central message of the 75-minute ceremony, which was broadcast live on state television.

“Any plots to make Tibet independent, to separate it from socialist China, are bound to fail. The skies above Tibet will always be clear blue; the bright red five-star flag of China will always fly high over Tibet,” Zhang exclaimed.

China has kept Tibetan areas under lockdown this month, which is not only the anniversary of last year’s riots but also marks 50 years since the failed uprising against Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile in India.

Beijing has also pulled out all the stops to convey its version of the region’s history and to brand the Dalai Lama, still revered by most Tibetans as their spiritual leader, as a separatist who threatens stability.

Visiting an exhibition on Tibet on Friday, President Hu Jintao said the current “good situation” in Tibet was “hard-earned and should be highly cherished”, the Xinhua news agency said.

The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, published an editorial on Saturday saying that the Dalai Lama consistently told untruths about the situation in Tibet.

“How much longer can the Dalai clique carry on grasping at straws by telling these lies?” the editorial concluded.

The Free Tibet group said in a statement that the new public holiday was an attempt by the Chinese government to mask the “desperate” nature of many Tibetans’ lives.

“After 50 years of direct rule over Tibet, all China has to offer is intensifying repression as a means of controlling Tibetans who continue to resist Chinese rule at every opportunity,” said Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden.

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma said on Friday the government’s refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama did not undermine human rights, South African Broadcasting Corporation radio news reported.

“I don’t think it amounts [to the] undermining of the human rights.
I think this country’s more sensitive to human rights than many,” he said.

“What should have happened ... so that it should not have had to reach this point, there should have been consultation as people were beginning to say this is what we want to do ...” he said.

He was speaking at a meeting with Afrikaner professionals and business people in Pretoria on Thursday.

The government had denied the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the now postponed 2010 peace conference.

The Tibetan spiritual leader was to have addressed the conference, aimed at thrashing out ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The government said that while it did not have a problem with the Dalai Lama, it did not want to draw focus away from preparations for the World Cup, to issues in Tibet.

Meanwhile, 2010 Fifa World Cup organising committee CEO Danny Jordaan said the calling off of the peace conference was a “great disappointment”, but it was time to move on.

SABC radio news reported on Friday that Jordaan said, while in Milan on a European tour to promote the Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup: “[It is a] great disappointment, but I think the matter is over, the world has moved on, there are other issues to worry about. You can see that the news is back on the question of the economic crisis and the job losses. - Reuters, Sapa

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