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Tibet's religious life still bruised by Lhasa riots
Fri Feb 13, 2009 9:20am EST
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By Emma Graham-Harrison
LHASA, China (Reuters) - Buddhist monasteries have reopened to the devout in Tibet's regional capital, but nearly a year after monks' protests sparked deadly riots, officials keep a tight grip on traditional hotbeds of discontent.
At the historic Drepung monastery, on Lhasa's outskirts, three or four monks were removed for their role in the violence.
Security forces moved out of the monastery when visitors were allowed back in around four months after the unrest. But there are army barracks, police cars and a checkpoint on the road up to what was once just a center of Buddhist study.
Inside, monks take patriotic education classes on Chinese law, alongside their Buddhist scripture studies, and were kept closeted away from visiting foreign journalists on a rare and tightly controlled government visit on Thursday.
At the ancient Jokhang, the only other Lhasa monastery the reporting group was allowed to visit, there were the same classes on law. Rank and file monks were absent -- perhaps because a few last year burst into a similar media tour to shout protests.
On March 14 last year, Lhasa erupted into riots that spilled over into ethnically Tibetan areas across the Himalayan plateau. A Tibetan crowd burned shops belonging to Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, killing 19 people.
Religion is at the heart of both Tibetan life and the Chinese government's political problems in the restive region, 50 years after Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India following an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.
Controls on religion and resentment over the condemnation of the Dalai Lama have made monasteries a breeding ground for anti-China sentiment. Discontent broke into protests in 1989 and again last year.
Beijing's tough response to last year's unrest sparked disruptions of the international leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay.
The region went into a security lock-down, with monasteries first in line for strict controls.
"During the time of the riot we had some security staff come to calm down the monastery," Ngawang Choetsen, deputy director of Drepung Monastery's management committee, told reporters.
"The monastery reopened to the public in June or July and since then there have been no security forces stationed here."
Three or four young monks who were key players in the unrest had left to be "handled in accordance with the law", he added before turning down requests to meet ordinary monks.
Hundreds of Drepung monks joined the peaceful protests that preceded the violence and all monks living in the sprawling complex now have sporadic lessons in Chinese law.
"Monks are also citizens of China, and every country has its laws and constitution," Choetsen said. Continued...
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