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Lifting of Martial Law in Tibet May Not Ease Persecution

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CHINA'S lifting of martial law Tuesday in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa signals that Communist Party leaders are confident of containing further anti-Chinese unrest in the city. Premier Li Peng signed a State Council order ending 14 months of military rule on Monday, declaring that ``the situation in the city of Lhasa has become stable.''

Chinese leaders apparently were reassured after no major demonstrations broke out in Lhasa in March during the Grand Summons Ceremony, the most important holiday in Tibetan Buddhism and an occasion marked by pro-independence rallies in the past. Martial law was imposed on March 8, 1989, after at least 17 people died in three days of anti-Beijing protests.

China, which has been harshly criticized abroad for human rights violations in Tibet, also seeks to bolster its image in the West, Western diplomats say. This month US President Bush considers whether to continue extending most-favored-nation trade treatment to China before a June 3 deadline.

But the withdrawal of martial law troops is unlikely to bring an easing of the persecution of Tibetans who openly challenge Chinese domination of their homeland, exiled Tibetans and Western diplomats say.

``Continued repression is a condition for lifting martial law,'' said one Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

In New Delhi, a representative of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader, welcomed the decision to end martial law but called it ``more a public relations effort'' by the Chinese regime.

Tashi Wangdi, a Cabinet minister of the Tibetan government in exile, cited a report by the official Radio Lhasa describing a public trial of 43 people on April 28, two days before the announcement martial law would be rescinded.

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