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Lhasa riot in the eyes of American poverty relief worker
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Tony Gleason said he still needs to summon up his courage to go out to the streets in Lhasa, over a week after the riots.

The American poverty relief worker was left wary and alone after the March 14 riot. His wife and daughter returned to the United States on March 20, and for most of the time, he has chosen to stay in his hotel.

"Wherever there were mobs, people tried to get away from them," said Gleason, field director of the Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund, a private American organization which helps Tibetans in everything from skill training, health to micro-finance.

Their Dropenling shop, in downtown Lhasa and about 10 minutes walk from the Jokhong Monastery, supported Tibetan artisans by selling their woven rugs, handbags and jewellery to tourists.

After the unrest, the shop business and field work have to be suspended. "The fund president Arthur Holcombe came into Lhasa several days ago, and planned to visit Xigaze, but he had to change his plan and head back," he said.

Gleason has worked in Tibet for three years and prided himself in being close to Tibetan culture. "I compare Lhasa to two places in the world, Mecca for the Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics."

Every weekend, he went swimming with his wife, enjoyed Tibetan delicacies in restaurants, or spent time in cafes with other expatriates.

But the American said it was neither easy to forget nor forgive the growling mobs who attacked his hotel and nearly hurt his one-year-old daughter.

"I was dining in the Snowland Restaurant with my family, and a large group of young men began throwing bricks and hand-sized rocks at cars going down the street," he recalled.

"My baby was on the back of my bicycle. I was very worried that she could be hurt by rocks or the cars speeding down the street," he said.

"When we finally got inside the hotel, I saw black smoke from the center of the city, and there was more and more smoke from different parts of the city."

"At around 5:00 p.m., mobs broke glass from outside and hammered the hotel door, yelling and screaming. I didn't see them, but it sounded terrible," he said. When he finally went out on Saturday afternoon, the picture was more gruesome than he expected. "All the shops were destroyed, all goods were thrown on to streets, everything was smashed. I had no idea how the mob opened the metal doors," he said.

At least 18 civilians and one police officer were killed in the riot and more than 600 people, 382 civilians and 241 police officers, were injured.

Life is returning to normal in Lhasa, but its residents, like Gleason, may still need time to recover

"We are trying to get over this, and continue our programs," he said, "I miss my wife and daughter, and hope they can come back soon."

(Xinhua News Agency March 24, 2008)

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