Tibet's top official has said he did not expect major unrest in the region next week for the 50th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule, despite reports of heightened tensions. "There shouldn't be big problems in Tibet," Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the region, told reporters. He was responding to a question about the upcoming March 10 anniversary which marks 50 years since the failed uprising led to the escape into exile of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's highest spiritual leader.
Speaking on the first day of the annual meeting of parliament in Beijing, Qiangba admitted that problems happened every year around the same time. "They take the opportunity of (the anniversary) of the suppression of the rebellion..., there is always this type of situation every year," he said. His comments came amid reports of rising tensions in Tibet and neighbouring provinces ahead of the anniversary, amid fears it would lead to the same level of unrest that occurred last year.
Riots erupted on March 14 last year in Tibet's capital Lhasa after four days of peaceful protests to mark the 49th anniversary of the uprising. The unrest quickly spread to neighbouring Tibetan-inhabited provinces. Activist groups said Chinese authorities had hugely increased security in Tibetan areas and several protests have already taken place ahead of this year's anniversary. One monk in a Tibetan town of south-west China set himself on fire last week, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
His self-immolation came after authorities banned prayers at his monastery, according to exiled Tibetan rights groups, who also said police subsequently shot him. China has denied this. The exiled Tibetan government has said 200 people died in the clampdown following last year's turmoil, although China has reported killing just one Tibetan "insurgent" and accused "rioters" of being responsible for 21 deaths.