The troops with automatic rifles patrolling the Tibetan quarter of the capital of Chinese-controlled Tibet are as ever-present as Buddhist pilgrims.
Two years after Lhasa erupted in a riot that set off anti-government protests across Tibetan areas of China, heavy security is the new normal. Helmeted paramilitary police stand guard behind spiked barriers at some street corners. Men on rooftops train binoculars on the square and streets in the Barkhor, the heart of the old city that surrounds a holy temple.
Their presence is so common that people in Lhasa were startled last week when the uniformed patrols seemingly disappeared. In their place, fit young men with military crewcuts - some wearing yellow and black track suits - marched in groups. The reason: a rare visit to the tense Tibetan capital by foreign reporters arranged by the government.
"Walking in the streets of the Barkhor and other parts of Lhasa, I realized all the army people had become plain-clothed overnight. Only today I learned that it was because the journalists were visiting," said a Tibetan woman who declined to give her name for fear of official retribution.
Text & Images: AP
Image: In this photo taken on March 3, 2010, military personnel march amongst residents in Lhasa, western China's Tibet region.