China must consider real autonomy for Tibet
The current unrest in Tibet is the result of Communist China's refusal to consider real autonomy for the province and a policy aimed at diluting, some would even say eliminating, any vestiges of Tibetan culture and religion.
China ruled Tibet since the 18th century and independence came in 1911 but in 1951 the People's Republic of China invaded the country and reasserted its rule. A popular Tibetan uprising in 1959 - the anniversary of which was on March 10 - was crushed by Chinese troops and Buddhism was almost totally suppressed. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, and about 100,000 Tibetans fled to India. Over the years any sign of dissent by Tibetans has been brutally crushed by the Communist Chinese.
China has only itself to blame for the present crisis. Even though in theory Tibet is an autonomous province, in reality China has never accepted Tibetan pleas for real autonomy and its rule has been harshly imposed. Religious freedom, so important to the Tibetans and their way of life, has not been allowed to flourish. Furthermore, large numbers of ethnic Chinese have purposely been settled in Tibet over the years, thus weakening the province's cultural and ethnic make-up.
The problem with China is that over the years it has not been truthful about the situation in Tibet. It claims that Tibet enjoys autonomy, which is not true, and it accuses those involved in popular protests of wanting to achieve independence, which is also not correct. The Dalai Lama and his supporters, as well as all major foreign powers recognise Chinese sovereignty over Tibet but want China to respect human rights, acknowledge the province's unique culture and grant it genuine autonomy.
Unfortunately, even though China has brought about many economic reforms, when it comes to political issues such as Tibet, it adopts an old-fashioned Communist attitude accusing those fighting for autonomy and freedom as "reactionary forces" inspired by "outside imperialist powers". This is absolute rubbish.
The timing of the Tibet protests is very embarrassing for China as it prepares to host to Olympic Games in summer. So far, the European Union and the United States, as well as the Dalai Lama, have resisted calls for a boycott of the games, and rightly so. However, the international community must encourage China to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama - something the Chinese Prime Minister last week indicated he was willing to do - with the aim of bringing about real autonomy for Tibet. It is a sad fact that the Western world has for far too long put its economic interests in China before its human rights concerns. This has to stop in the interest of a fairer balance of the equation.
The victory by the Socialists in Spain's recent general election is a personal triumph for Prime Minister Jose' Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. His party increased its share of seats and the popular vote and is no longer in office "by default" - it won the election four years ago only because the then Conservative government, which was leading in the polls, falsely claimed that the Madrid train bombings were the work of Basque terrorists and not Al-Qaeda.
However, Mr Zapatero was once again denied an absolute majority of seats and will have to rely on small regional parties to support his government in Parliament. The main issues in the election - which also saw the centre-right Popular Party led by Mariano Rajoy increase its votes and seats - were the country's slowing economy, immigration and the fight against terrorism.
Mr Zapatero was criticised during the electoral campaign for not paying enough attention to the economy and for ignoring the fact that Spain had become too dependent on the construction industry. Although the Spanish economy had grown to close to four per cent in recent years, the global financial situation had brought the country's property boom to a halt. Critics had accused Mr Zapatero of concentrating too much on fringe issues such as gay marriage, especially in the early days of his first government.
The Socialists were also criticised for being too lenient towards illegal immigrants - 700,000 of whom were given an amnesty in 2005 - Zapatero's response was that immigration has in fact been good for the economy, and for having negotiated with ETA, the Basque terrorist group, which did not stop the group's campaign of violence. In fact, a Socialist town councillor was shot dead by ETA two days before the election.
Nonetheless, the Socialists were re-elected, mainly because the Popular Party failed to broaden its appeal to voters such as disenchanted Socialists and also perhaps because the Popular Party adopted too much of a hard-line attitude towards the Government over the past four years. Mr Rajoy is not particularly popular with the electorate, and many voters, even if they were unhappy with the ruling Socialists, remained unconvinced by the Popular Party leader. As one Socialist Party official told the foreign media recently: "It all boils down to credibility. Who is the most trustworthy candidate to lead Spain over the next four years?"
Now that the celebrations are over, Mr Zapatero will have to concentrate on steering the economy out of danger and weaning it off the construction industry. He will also have to manage the integration of immigrants into Spanish society, deal with calls for greater autonomy in Catalonia and the Basque country and to confront the problem of Basque terrorism. He certainly does not have an easy task ahead, but deserves credit for winning the election in a difficult economic climate.