Tibet presents China with major test ahead of Olympics

With the world spotlight on China in the coming months, the violence in Tibet has given Beijing its first major human rights test in the run-up to the Olympics, observers say.

Protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa against Chinese rule led to clashes between demonstrators and police Friday which left several people dead, witnesses and officials said.

The crisis is the greatest challenge to Beijing's authority in the region for nearly 20 years, when an uprising was brutally suppressed by authorities, rights group have said.

But with just five months to go before the Olympics, China finds itself under unprecedented international scrutiny over its treatment of its citizens as it prepares to showcase itself to the world.

"We can say that the Olympic Games has come back to haunt them," said Valarie Niquet, director of the French Institute in International Relations based in Paris.

"In 2001, China was awarded the Games when all the world was talking about China in extremely positive terms, for example its economic miracle.

"But the world has changed and from now on we expect more, but the Chinese have not realised that the world is expecting a lot more of them."

Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China researcher for Amnesty International based in London, said the Olympics has only stoked anger among many Chinese citizens.

"The Chinese people have been struck by the incongruity between China desperately seeking the kind of global validation from the Olympics, without granting their citizens the kind of rights they deserve," she told AFP.

"That incongruity has irked a lot of citizens, from peasants and ethnic groups to lawyers."

She added that increased repression in recent years in an effort to stifle any dissent had meant that for many citizens "the Olympics has just made their lives much more miserable."

In the past week, China has received condemnation for its treatment of Muslim minorities in its northwestern Xinjiang region and its detention and imminent trial of Hu Jia, one of the country's most active human rights campaigners.

An increasing list of criticisms include its incessant threatening of Taiwan and its failure to support a swift move to democracy in Hong Kong.

The most high-profile condemnation has been China's support for the Sudanese government, as around 200,000 people were killed in its western Darfur region, the United Nations has said.

A US-based rights group said Friday China was the biggest supplier of small arms to Sudan, adding Khartoum pays for the arms out of the revenues it receives by selling oil to China.

Beijing itself says it has played a constructive role in mitigating the conflict.

Kate Saunders, from the International Campaign for Tibet, said China's severe repression of rights in Tibet inevitably led to the recent violence.

"It shows the level of frustration that was building up. They seem to have reached breaking point against the policies that the Chinese have used in Tibet," she said.

"This is a response to very hostile statements against the Dalai Lama by the Chinese and the economic marginalisation. The two have combined."

Friday's unrest followed three days of protests by hundreds of monks in Lhasa, India and elsewhere around the world that marked the anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to "liberate" the region from what it said was feudal rule.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled following the failed uprising but tension and resentment has simmered ever since.

Copyright © 2008 AFP

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