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Tibet: Tensions High As Uprising Anniversary Approaches

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BEIJING — Tensions are high in Tibet's capital and paramilitary police are out in force, Hong Kong tourists reported Friday, while Chinese authorities sought to portray a stable situation ahead of Tuesday's 50th anniversary of the failed uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile.

Armed officers are positioned across Lhasa, creating a highly "tense" atmosphere, and police also are blocking roads leading to eastern parts of Tibet, a 33-year-old Hong Kong traveler told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Although they denied it, officials appeared to be on high alert for any trouble in Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited regions in western China to coincide with sensitive anniversaries coming up in the next week.

Tuesday marks a half-century since Tibetans rose up on March 10, 1959, in a futile attempt to end Chinese rule. Their Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, had to flee into exile in India, where he has been a potent symbol for Tibetans' aspirations.

Four days later will be the first anniversary of a deadly anti-government riot in Lhasa that spread protests across Tibetan areas in China. Officials say 22 people died, but Tibetans say many times more were killed in demonstrations and the ensuing military crackdown.

Tibet's governor, Qiangba Puncog, insisted to reporters Friday that authorities did not expect any large-scale troubles like last year. He said a few people allied with the Dalai Lama might try to create disturbances around the anniversaries.

"The Tibetan people's trust in the party and the motherland has not changed following the March 14th incident. The foundations of the Tibetan people are strong," Qiangba Puncog said while attending China's annual legislative session in Beijing.

Travelers and exile groups, however, have reported that China has deployed thousands of soldiers and paramilitary police in Tibetan areas to guard against a repeat of last year's protests.

Kang Jinzhong, the political commissar of the paramilitary police in Tibet, would not say how many armed officers are stationed in the region, but said there had been "no special increase or supplement." He described the police deployment as "normal" since before the riots.

The tourist who talked with the AP was one of three backpackers from Hong Kong who he said were stopped by police and had their travel documents confiscated Wednesday on the edge of Bayi town, 185 miles (300 kilometers) east of Lhasa. The man, an engineer, identified himself only by his surname, Chu, because he was still in Tibet and feared retaliation by authorities.

Chu said the three were questioned for four hours about the purpose of their visit and then told they could not enter Bayi for security reasons. They were escorted back to Lhasa the next day. He said seven tourists from mainland China who were traveling with the Hong Kong trio were allowed to visit Bayi.

"If the authorities don't want us to visit, they shouldn't have allowed us to enter Tibet at all," he said.

The region has been mostly sealed off to journalists and foreigners for at least a month, but residents of China's semiautonomous Hong Kong territory are allowed to travel to Tibet without a special permit.

Chinese communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950, and the government claims the region has always been part of China. But many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and contend Beijing's tight control is eroding their culture and identity.

The protests a year ago were the worst uprising against Chinese rule since the failed rebellion in 1959.

Tibetan officials said Friday that 76 of the more than 950 people detained following the protests were sent to prison. The others were all freed after undergoing "education," they said, without elaborating.

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Associated Press writers Anita Chang reported from Beijing and Dikky Sinn from Hong Kong.