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Lhasa all quiet on riots anniversary

THE city of Lhasa was quiet yesterday - few tourists, many pilgrims and little business - on the first anniversary of riots that killed 18 civilians and a police officer last year.

Saturday is the 19th day of the Tibetan New Year, not a particular occasion for mass pilgrimages - which happen on the 8th, 15th and 30th days of each month.

But pilgrims are constantly seen, walking clockwise around the Potala Palace and Porgor Street near the Jokhang Temple.

Most wear traditional Tibetan costumes and hold a prayer wheel and beads, while some are accompanied by their pet dogs.

Losang Pempa, 35, arrived at the Jokhang Temple at 8:30am, crawling on a cushion on the ground, praying and kowtowing at its entrance.

"I don't pray for any individual person, I pray for the well-being of all the living souls," he said.

The man from Mangkam in Qamdo Prefecture sells sheepskin produced in Ngari to support his four children, all studying at Lhasa schools.

"I come here whenever I have time," he said. "I kowtow for 2,000 to 2,500 times a day, until I feel hungry and go home."

A group of six tourists from northeast China's Heilongjiang Province followed their guide around the Jokhang Temple and Porgor Street, listening to legends about landmark buildings and Tibet's history.

On Porgor, Lhasa's most famous market street, tourists were few and business was bad - partly because the tourist rush still hadn't started in early spring, when an extreme lack of oxygen makes the least exertion impossible for lowlanders, and partly because most residents avoided going out, wary over last year's tragedy.

Porgor Street was the center of last year's riots, during which many shops were looted and homes, schools and hospitals were torched. Most shops in Porgor Street were open yesterday but had few buyers.

"I've been here since 8:30am but haven't sold anything," said a clothing store keeper. "Probably it will get better next month. More tourists will be coming then."

The early spring chill and lack of heating drove nearly every shop owner into the street, chatting or playing cards. Women sat on stone stairs knitting and enjoying the sunshine.

Policemen were seen on every downtown Lhasa street. Occasionally, they stopped a taxi for security checks.

"It's for our own safety. We all understand this," said a Tibetan woman accompanying her daughter to a weekend English class.

A few steps from the weekend school is Yishion, the casual wear outlet which rioters set fire last year, killing five young women workers.

The store's sales plunged after the March 14 riots last year but returned to normal at the beginning of this year.


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