Exiled Tibetan leaders on hunger strike in Delhi

ANI, March 19, 2008

New Delhi, India -- Exiled Tibetan leaders took part in a day-long hunger strike here on Wednesday to protest the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

Forty-two of the 43 members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile took part in the hunger strike. The parliamentarians sat on a wooden platform while dozens of Buddhist monks attired in maroon robes and other Tibetan demonstrators squatted on the sidewalk.

The monks held up posters that displayed Chinese tanks and armoured vehicles in different Tibetan towns.

“China, stop accusing the Dalai Lama of inciting violence,” read one placard while the protestors shouted for ‘freedom’.

“To express our solidarity and to show support with our brothers and sisters in Tibet with the movement that they are carrying out for the legitimate rights of the Tibetan people, the Tibetan Parliament has come here today for a sit-in, a day-long hunger strike and this news conference. What we are requesting the International community is that all governments, Parliaments, the United Nations and other agencies connected with democratic movement and rights and human rights they should go into Tibet, they should intervene in the ongoing situation in Tibet,” said Karma Chophel, the Speaker of the exiled Tibetan Parliament.

China warned of a “life and death” struggle with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, as it sought to end a wave of protests in its Tibetan regions with arrests and tightened political control.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has accused the Tibetan spiritual leader of masterminding the protests — which culminated in a riot on Friday in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital — from Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and the government-in-exile are based.

Meanwhile, shrugging off violent protests that have shaken Tibet, China said on Wednesday that the Olympic torch would go through the Himalayan region as planned on its way to August’s Beijing Games.

The crackdown on the protests in Tibet and neighbouring Chinese provinces, which may have killed dozens of people, had sparked calls for a boycott of Beijing’s showcase Games.

China accuses the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, of orchestrating the rash of monk-led protests and rioting — the most serious in the Himalayan region for nearly two decades — in a bid to wreck the August 8-24 Games.

The spiritual leader, however, denies masterminding the protests, which culminated last Friday in riots in Lhasa.

The exiled Tibetan Government claims that so far 99 people have died in the clashes in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities. Beijing, however, says that only 13 “innocent civilians” have been killed in the violence.

The Chinese authorities are keen to stamp out the unrest quickly and restore stability in the far-west before the Olympics, which they hope will showcase China’s prosperity and unity.

New Delhi is treading a delicate balance with its giant neighbour, with whom it is trying to expand diplomatic and trade ties after decades of rivalry that included a brief war in 1962.

A major irritant is that India plays host to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, scene of daily protests in the past week. Throughout the day, cries of “Free Tibet” have echoed across the hill station as protesters waving or wearing Tibetan flags clog the town’s sloping streets.

Indian police appeared to have softened their stance on Tibetan protesters marching to the Chinese border, allowing a group of marchers to continue on their way from Dharamsala.

Last week a group of about 100 marchers were detained by police on orders of the Indian government, but a second group, which picked up the route from where the first group was stopped, has been allowed to go ahead.

The marchers are planning to get to Tibet via New Delhi, where they hope to coincide with the arrival the Olympic torch as it passes through the Indian capital.