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Lhasa residents still bruised by deadly riots
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A year after the deadly violence that rocked Lhasa, Losang Tsering still bears the marks: three lost teeth and a scar on his left cheek.

"Last year was full of challenges for China, with the Lhasa riots and the (May 12) earthquake," he says over the phone. "Let bygones be bygones. Now we just hope everyone will learn to cherish today's happy life."

Losang Tsering, a surgeon at Tibet Autonomous Regional People's Hospital in Lhasa, was in an ambulance with two Han patients, a father and his dying child, when at least 10 rioters stopped them.

The doctor knew precisely what was going on. He held the child in his arms and put his own helmet on the father's head. The desperate rioters attacked him with stones and clubs, and he ended up with a broken cheekbone, cerebral concussion and loss of his front teeth.

Moved by his heroic deed, Lhasa residents -- Tibetans and Han people alike -- flooded his hospital ward, bringing bouquets, gifts and words of admiration and gratitude.

He also had the honor to be a torch bearer when the Beijing Olympic flame was relayed to Lhasa in June.

Yet a year is not enough to heal the doctor, physically or mentally.

"As the first anniversary of the riots approaches, I've been thinking how everyone should work for peace and prevent such violence from erupting again," says Losang Tsering, who is on a year-long advanced training program at Huaxi Hospital in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. "I hope this sensitive month will end in peace and my family will be happily reunited in September."

Losang Tsering, 37, is a native Tibetan. "You should've been more careful" was all his wife, another medical worker in Lhasa, had to say when she saw how badly he had been injured.

"I just did my job," he said. "The Han people would have done the same to save the Tibetans."


Zuo Xiaoyang has tears in her eyes when she remembers her elder brother Zuo Rencun, who died after one of his employees set his garment store in downtown Lhasa on fire. He was 45.

Zuo Xiaoyang's store was also set on fire, but she managed to escape. Since then, she has been running the two businesses by herself.

"Business declined sharply after the riots," she says. "In the past two months the combined turnover of the stores was only 1,000 yuan a day."

Zuo says her merchandise, all economy items with thin margins, mainly targets low-income earners, including peasants and herders. "Buyers were very few. Even the annual shopping spree before the Tibetan New Year holiday didn't come this year."

Still terrified by last year's tragedy, Zuo mails her income home every month. "If things here go wrong again, I'll escape from Lhasa at all costs. My parents cannot stand any further blows."

The Yishion garment store on Beijing Road opens 12 hours a day, with loud pop songs and stylish young men and women greeting every potential customer with professional smiles.

The store, revamped and reopened last May, bears no sign of the burning, looting and deaths of five saleswomen, aged from 19 to 24. But smiles gave way to uneasy looks when "March 14" is mentioned. The date has come to signify the deadly riots.

"I'm new here and don't know anything," shop assistants say.

The only surviving employee from the date, 24-year-old Drolma, refuses to say anything. Her look makes any further question unwelcome.

Manager Tang Qingyan keeps a low profile ahead of the anniversary. He rarely visits the store and never answers Xinhua reporters' phone calls.

Of all the 1,216 vendors that sustained losses in the riots, Tang was the first to get a government loan of 1 million yuan, with which he revamped his store and planned to expand business. "Then people began to blame him for being selfish, saying he was making money at the cost of five lives," says another storekeeper on condition of anonymity. "I think he was wronged -- his own cousin was among the dead."

Altogether 18 civilians and a police officer were killed and more than 600 were injured in the violence. It also left seven schools, five hospitals and 120 homes torched and 908 shops looted.


Since the riots the regional government has put forth a series of preferential policies to help businesses recover. Though the tax breaks, government loans, exemption of rental fees and subsidies did boost confidence to some extent, the apparent decline makes everyone uncertain about the future.

The riots were a fatal blow to Li Lin's inn, on Porgor Street, the famous market street around the Jokhang Temple. "In the busiest months of July, August and September, we receive about 10 guests a day," he says. "For the rest of the year, the place had just two or three guests."

Seeing a booming tourism market, Li leased the 30-bed inn in January 2008. "Business was good in the first two months, with pilgrims from other Tibetan communities and tourists and business people coming every day."

Li had planned to refurbish the inn, but the year-long post-riots recession made him reconsider. In November he put up ads along Pogor Street hoping to lease the place out. "One person dropped in for a look, but never came back," he says.

From time to time, a former guest, a Tibetan businessman from Qinghai Province, calls to check the situation in Lhasa. The man sells tangka, traditional Tibetan scroll paintings, and does not plan to come back to Lhasa until next month, Li says.

Most Han business people consider themselves residents of Lhasa. "We've been here long enough to love Lhasa, and are ready to sit through the hard times with our Tibetan friends," says Jia Jun, whose Landun Market in downtown Lhasa, once the city's largest retailer of children's wear, is the only building that still bears scars from the riots.

Jia and his employees are now selling stock left from last year at discounted prices on the first floor of the charred three-story building. "Our turnover is about a third of what we used to do."

Eighty percent of Jia's employees are Tibetans. "We are like one family. After the riots, nearly everyone asked for a pay cut so that we could live through the tough time," he says.

Jia was hoping business would recover in April or May. "The Tibetans are better off nowadays. Some herders drive their cars to Lhasa for shopping and stay for days, as long as they believe it is safe and stable."

Ten years in Lhasa, Wang Ruifeng, manager of Huadu Advertisement and Decoration Co., considers Lhasa his "home away from home".

Last year's riots left Wang's wife seriously injured, their company looted and the couple penniless. "I feel safe seeing the soldiers and police on the streets. No one wants violence. I trust Lhasa will be stable this year -- I want to spend at least another 10 years here."

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2009)

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