Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - Page 5 News List

China approves Lhasa makeover

MODERNIZATION The plan called for capping the downtown population and limiting the land allowed for development to create a ‘modern metropolis’

AGENCIES , BEIJING

China has approved a “modern redesign” of the Tibetan capital, state media said yesterday, including a limit on its downtown population.

Overseas rights groups have long complained that the Chinese government has failed to protect Lhasa and accuse Beijing of trying to flood the region with Han Chinese to dilute its ethnic makeup and assert greater control.

China rejects these charges, saying it has invested billions to improve lives in a region once blighted by serfdom and poverty and is committed to protecting its unique way of life and customs. By 2020, Lhasa will become an “economically prosperous, socially harmonious and eco-friendly modern city with vivid cultural characteristics and deep ethnic traditions,” a document carried on the central government’s Web site said.

The China Daily said the plan would make Lhasa “a coordinated and distinctive modern metropolis by 2020.”

Lhasa’s downtown population would be capped at 450,000 — the city only has 500,000 residents in total today — and just 75km² of land would be allowed to be used for urban development.

Lhasa is divided between an older, more traditional, Tibetan section, and a newer section where Han Chinese migrants dominate, complete with shopping malls and night clubs.

The urban makeover plan said local authorities should “pay great attention to protecting the historical, cultural and aesthetic characteristics” of Lhasa. That includes controlling the number, height and even color of buildings.

“Pay attention to the legal preservation of sites of necessary religious activities [and] satisfy the needs of the religious lives of believers,” the document said.

The China Daily said that when Beijing conducted its first census in Tibet in 1953, “Lhasa’s residents totaled only 30,000 and 4,000 of them were beggars.”

In related news, assailants threw a bomb into a newly built police station in a Tibetan area, a police official said yesterday amid heightened tensions and security during a volatile anniversary period. No injuries were reported.

The explosion just after midnight on Monday shattered windows at the station in Bogexi, a town in the predominantly Tibetan Ganzi prefecture, said Liu Xiaojun, a police official.

The building was not yet occupied and an investigation was under way, said Liu, who works at the public security bureau in Batang county, which oversees the town. Batang, in Sichuan Province’s far west, is about 7km from the Tibetan border.

The China Daily blamed “terrorists” for the blast, but provided no other details.

The incident came just days after the one-year anniversary of March 14 anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa. The violence last year spread to three other provinces in western China — Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai — and was the most sustained and widespread Tibetan uprising in decades.

This month also marks the 50th anniversary of a failed March 10 revolt against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region that sent the revered Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile.

Ganzi is known for its strong Tibetan identity and has been at the center of dissent for years. It saw some of the most violent protests last spring.

Last week, officials said they received an emergency notice from Sichuan’s provincial government to seal off the town of Kangding to foreigners, the last corner of Ganzi to remain open.

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