In this photo taken on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012, Tibetans gather on the side of a main street in Nangchen, eastern Tibet, raising slogans for the return of Tibetan spiritual laeder His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile. (Photo/AP)
DHARAMSHALA, February 11: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao met with Gyaltsen Norbu, the government installed XIth Panchen Lama Friday and pledged “greater” religious freedom and cultural protection in Tibet.
"We will place more importance on improving the lives of our Tibetan compatriots, on protecting the... traditions of Tibet... and in preserving the freedom of religious belief of Tibetans," Wen was quoted as saying in reports on Chinese official websites.
However, Wen’s statements of “improving the lives of Tibetan compatriots” came just a day after Chinese security forces hunted down an injured Tibetan, who had taken part in a peaceful protest, and killed him along with his brother.
Official reports of the meeting between Wen and Norbu didn’t carry any mention of the 21 Tibetans who have self-immolated in Tibet, the most recent being Sonam Rabyang, a monk from the Kyigudo region, who set his body on fire protesting Chinese occupation of Tibet, barely hours before the two met in Beijing.
According to official reports, Wen urged Norbu, who was in 2010 appointed to the country's top legislative advisory body, to use his “influence” to instill patriotism among Tibetans and to uphold national unity.
"We hope you can guide the monks and the (Tibetan) people to love the country, uphold the law and follow Buddhist practice... you should play an important and active role in safeguarding national and ethnic unity," Wen was quoted as telling Norbu.
In July 2011, following widespread resentment from local Tibetans, Gyaltsen Norbu, who spends most of his time in Beijing, had to cancel a long-planned trip to the Labrang monastery in Sangchu, eastern Tibet.
A large presence of Chinese armed forces, threats of pay-cuts and extermination from jobs had failed to deter Tibetan officials and local Tibetans from complying with the Chinese government decree to prepare a “grand welcome” for the 21-year old Gyaltsen Norbu, who is more popularly known amongst the Tibetans as the “fake Panchen.”
China handpicked Gyaltsen Norbu as the XIth Panchen Lama in 1995 after His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognised Gendun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year old boy from Lhari, Tibet as the 11th reincarnation in the Panchen Lama lineage.
Gendun Choekyi Nyima and his family were arrested shortly and disappeared. Since then China has refused to reveal their whereabouts.
On February 8, coinciding with the call for a global solidarity vigil for Tibetans inside Tibet made by the exile Tibetan leadership, Rigzin Dorze, 19, set himself on fire in Ngaba while thousands carried out peaceful protests in Nangchen and Kyigudo.
At least a dozen Tibetans are feared dead in indiscriminate police firings on unarmed Tibetans in Drango and Serthar last month.