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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 17:15 GMT
Tibet poses dilemma for Beijing
By Shirong Chen
BBC China Editor, Beijing

The wave of violent protests in Tibet could not have come at a worse time for the Chinese government.

President Hu Jintao
President Hu led a crackdown on Tibetan protests in 1989

With the Beijing Olympics just months away, China's top leaders do not want the monks' protests to become the country's defining image.

Many members of the Tibet Autonomous Region government are currently in Beijing for the annual National People's Congress.

Only a few days ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with the Tibetan delegation and asked them to continue to improve living standards and work towards peace and stability in the region.

But Tibetan protesters seem determined to make their points while the eyes of the world are turned on China in this Olympic year.

They want to voice their protest against what they see as China's violation of human rights in the region and they want more freedom, both religious and political.

Another Burma?

Tibetans in other countries have supported their actions by organising protests and marches.

On Friday, just as Chinese security forces were trying to put a lid on fires in Lhasa, a group of Tibetans protested in front of the Chinese Embassy in London.

And exiled Tibetans in India started a protest march back to Tibet on Monday, only to be blocked by the Indian police.

The Chinese government is faced with a dilemma.

They certainly do not want any bloodshed just five months before the start of the Olympic Games, and will be keen to avoid any situation reminiscent of what happened in Burma in 2007.

The central government has poured money into the region in an attempt to improve Tibetans' standard of living

On the other hand, they will not want to give the monks and other protesters room to let off steam for fear that this may be interpreted as weakness and trigger further unrest.

Tibet, together with the disputed territories of Xinjiang and Taiwan, present the biggest headaches for China's leaders.

Their approach hitherto has been to use both a carrot and stick.

The central government has poured money into the region in an attempt to improve Tibetans' standard of living.

A new railway to the main city, Lhasa, has been hailed by the authorities as proof that they want to work for the benefit of the people of Tibet.

History of protests

But Tibetans complain that the investment has only benefited the ethnically Chinese Han people working in the region and that the effect has been to dilute - or even destroy - Tibetan culture.

There have been attempts by the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama to engage in talks on further autonomy, but so far little progress has been made.

Protests and rebellions have been a feature of Tibetan life ever since the Chinese army marched into the region in 1950.

This week's wave of protests coincides with the 49th anniversary of an unsuccessful 1959 uprising, when the Dalai Lama fled into exile.

The last time serious protests took place was in early 1989, just before the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.

At that time, President Hu Jintao was the Party Secretary in Tibet and the way he dealt with the protests won him approval from his bosses in Beijing.

Nearly twenty years on, he will be anxious to bring the protests to an equally swift end.

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