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17 Mar, 2009 06:31

Tibet still struggling for independence 50 years on

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama fleeing from Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. Half a century on, it seems the fate of Tibet has been sealed since it became a part of China.

Yet the Dalai Lama still exerts huge influence over his native land and people, and they want independence.

This time last year locals rioted, insisting Tibet should be self-governed, even though its been part of China for nearly six decades.

The riots left twenty two people dead and ignited further clashes in three neighbouring provinces.

“The Monks are afraid. I am afraid. What are we afraid of? We are afraid of the situation, what is happening, now things are tense,” said one anonymous monk.

In 1951 China reasserted its control over Tibet, which it says has belonged to China for centuries.

The Dalai Lama and his supporters rose up against the Chinese, but they lost the confrontation and the Dalai Lama fled to India in March 1959.

He's been trying to return ever since.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi says, “The Dalai's side still insist on establishing the so called 'greater Tibet' on a quarter of Chinese territory. They want to drive away the Chinese armed forces on Chinese territory and ask all non Tibetans to relocate themselves, people who have spent all their lives on this part of Chinese territory. You call this person a religious figure?”

China says it has poured billions of dollars into Tibet for decades, connecting it with the rest of China, preserving species under threat in the territory's wilderness and maintaining Tibet's Buddhist culture.

The Dalai Lama now says he doesn't want independence, just greater autonomy within China. But his attitude to Beijing is far from conciliatory.

“These fifty years have brought untold destruction and suffering to the land and people of Tibet. Even today Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear, and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them,” he said.

Many say that far from being a figure of moderation and tolerance, the Dalai Lama is a focal point for violent anti-Chinese sentiment.

“The Dalai clique does its best to spread rumour, and its effort is doomed to fail. No force can divert the historical trend for Tibet to develop and become stronger in the motherland family. We have full confidence in Tibet's stability and development,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Chaoxu.

Even within the Buddhist community, the Dalai Lama has alienated many by banning the worship of a deity called Shugden.

As a result, Buddhists supposed to behave with serene calm have been fighting each other across the world.

The Dalai Lama inspires strong feelings wherever he travels. But to the one place he wants to go most, the door remains shut.