China orders Tibet to celebrate New Year
China has told Tibetans they must hold New Year celebrations after activists called for a boycott in a sign of support for the Dalai Lama.
By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Last Updated: 6:02PM GMT 24 Feb 2009
Losar, or Tibetan New Year, falls on Wednesday and is usually an occasion for feasting and communal celebration. This year, however, a growing number of Tibetans have decided to boycott the party as a silent protest.
Tenzin Taklha, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama said: "Usually it's a day of festivity and gaiety when everyone gets together. But this year it's going to be observed as a day of prayer in memory of all the Tibetans who died and all those who are still suffering under Chinese rule."
Many living overseas have already cancelled their parties, but Chinese authorities have told Tibetans at home to celebrate.
Officials have handed out 800 yuan (£80) each to nearly 70,000 poor Tibetans "to enable people in difficulty to enjoy a happy and auspicious Tibetan New Year," according to a government website.
A four-hour-long television gala has also been organised and Ma Zhaoxu, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: "Tibetans will go ahead with celebrations."
Tensions are already high in the region, and China has closed off Tibet to all foreigners, creating a news blackout. Last weekend, 24 people were arrested in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, while Chinese police said they had discovered several pounds of explosives under a bridge in the east of Tibet.
In Kangding, a heavily Tibetan town in neighbouring Sichuan, hundreds of anti-riot police were seen drilling in barracks on the outskirts of the town, wearing protective clothing and carrying batons and guns.
March 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile from Tibet, and fears are growing that the events of last March, when riots broke out across Tibet, could repeat themselves.