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Page last updated at 22:03 GMT, Thursday, 20 March 2008

Town silent amid Chinese build-up

Military trucks in Hezuo, 20/03/08
The army has moved into Hezuo en masse

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Hezuo, Gansu Province

Soldiers clutching assault rifles stand guard on approach roads. Official checkpoints have sprung up all around. After several days of protests by Tibetans, the army has taken control of Hezuo.

Demonstrations in Hezuo and the surrounding towns and villages began last Saturday - part of wider protests that started in Lhasa, the Tibetan provincial capital.

Many Tibetans appear fed up with their lives under Chinese rule.

Protesters have been tearing down Chinese flags and replacing them with the flag of the Tibetan government in exile, based in Dharamsala, India.

Rewards offered

Hezuo, in the Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture, has a population of about 76,000. More than half of them are Tibetans.

Despite the seriousness of the situation in Gansu, China has only just admitted that there have been protests here.

A government notice posted around the town on Thursday warned protesters - or criminals, as the notice called them - have until midnight on 25 March to hand themselves in.

The notice, in both Chinese and Tibetan, makes it clear just how widespread the protests have been in Gannan.

Government notice about protests in Hezuo (20/03/08)
Public notices blame the Dalai Lama for the violence

Issued jointly by the prefecture's courts, prosecutor and public security bureau, it said there had been trouble in Xiahe, Luqu, Maqu, Zhuoni, Diebu and Hezuo.

"A number of criminals have attacked, smashed, looted and burned party and government organisations, judicial departments, schools, shops and residential areas," it says. The notice blames the disturbances on Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"This political conspiracy has been deliberately orchestrated by the Dalai clique that wants to split the motherland," it says.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising, flatly rejects the charge that he is behind this latest wave of anti-Chinese protests.

The notice says those who turn themselves in will be treated leniently - but those who do not will be treated harshly, as will those who hide them.

The prefecture government has promised protection and rewards for those who turn in the "small group" of protesters to the authorities.

Deserted town

Security was noticeably tighter in and around Hezuo on Thursday after clashes were reported in the area.

There were checkpoints at road intersections, manned by soldiers and police, some of whom appeared to be wearing stab-vests.

A number of soldiers had bayonets attached to their rifles.

It was extremely difficult for the BBC to move about the area and the Tibetans we approached outside Hezuo were reluctant to talk about what had happened.

Old men and women could be seen peering over the walls that surround their homes. Most people in the area are farmers or herders.

Residents in the town awoke on Thursday to find Hezuo blanketed in snow. They initially seemed reluctant to venture outside their homes.

The streets had few people on them and buses were mostly empty. Toll booths on the roads outside town were deserted; no-one was collecting money.

Later in the day, people in the town seemed to get a little bolder. They came out of doors to shop, chat and do household chores.

But the army was still very much in control. Truckloads of soldiers still occupied the town centre by dusk.

Tibet map




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