BEIJING (Reuters) - China marked its inaugural Serfs' Emancipation Day on Saturday with testimonials by Tibetans on the merits of Communist rule, denunciations of the Dalai Lama and vows to crush any attempts at independence.
The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, which Beijing denounces as illegitimate, said the public holiday was aggravating problems and was aimed at hiding repression in Tibet.
China declared March 28 as an annual holiday in Tibet earlier this year, marking the date in 1959 when Chinese troops took direct control of the government in Lhasa after being brought in to quell an uprising.
In a carefully choreographed ceremony held on a sprawling public square beneath Lhasa's Potala Palace, the government projected its message that its rule brought an end to a cruel feudal system and has improved Tibetans' lives ever since.
Roughly a year after deadly riots shook Lhasa and triggered waves of protests in ethnic Tibetan areas, an audience of some 13,000 Tibetans sat in neat rows as a former serf, a student, military officials and the region's top leaders spoke on the horrors of the "old Tibet" and the merits of Beijing's rule.
Zhang Qingli, the region's Communist Party chief, delivered the central message of the 75-minute ceremony, which was broadcast live on state television.
"Any plots to make Tibet independent, to separate it from socialist China, are bound to fail. The skies above Tibet will always be clear blue; the bright red five-star flag of China will always fly high over Tibet," Zhang exclaimed.
China has kept Tibetan areas under lockdown this month, which is not only the anniversary of last year's riots but also marks 50 years since the failed uprising against Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India.
Beijing has pulled out all the stops to convey its version of the region's history and to brand the Dalai Lama, still revered by most Tibetans as their spiritual leader, as a separatist who threatens stability.
Visiting an exhibition on Tibet on Friday, President Hu Jintao said the current "good situation" in Tibet was "hard-earned and should be highly cherished," the Xinhua news agency said.
The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, published an editorial on Saturday saying that the Dalai Lama consistently told untruths about the situation in Tibet.
"How much longer can the Dalai clique carry on grasping at straws by telling these lies?" the editorial concluded.
The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile said that the Chinese government's holiday was offensive and provocative.
"This day will be observed by Tibetans throughout the world and especially those in Tibet as a day of mourning," said the statement by Tibet's exiled cabinet, the Kashag.
It added that Beijing's assertions that the old Tibet was feudal and repressive were a "blatant distortion."
"The best judge of whether they have been 'liberated' is the Tibetan people. They vote with their feet and lives by crossing the Himalayas to seek freedom and happiness outside of their 'liberated' Tibet," it said.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)