Exiles Protest Olympic Torch Relay Plan in Tibet

June 17, 2008 Updated: June 17, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India—About two hundred Tibetan exiles marched through a northern Indian hill town on Tuesday to protest against plans to take the Olympic torch through Tibet, saying the region needed justice not pageantry.

Separately, Indian police broke up a march by a group of Tibetans making their way to China, arresting some 50 protesters as they tried to enter a restricted military zone along the border.

The march and other anti-China protests have become an embarrassment for New Delhi given its growing trade and cultural relations with China, despite a festering border dispute.

On Tuesday, Tibetans holding posters and banners marched through the streets of this northern Indian town, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile and home to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and shouted anti-China slogans.

“Free Tibet”, “We want justice”, they shouted, protesting against Chinese plans to parade the Olympic torch through Tibet.

In a street play, protesters dressed like Chinese police in green uniforms enacted scenes of brutality, beating Tibetan youths and monks and holding a gun at them.

The Olympic flame is likely to pass through Lhasa this weekend, although organisers have yet to confirm the date or details of the route through the Tibetan capital where anti-China rioting broke out in March.

“Tibetans are deeply against the torch relay through Tibet because China is using this torch and the Olympics to show that Tibet is part of China,” Tsewang Rinzen, the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, told Reuters.

“There are thousands of Tibetans who are still mourning and in the mourning period right now,” he said, criticising the planned pageantry in Lhasa.

“We strongly believe that, whether the torch relay through Lhasa takes place or not, the Tibetan people have the right to decide and not the Chinese government.”

Tibetan exiles say their protests are in solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet, but the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he supported the Olympics and protests such as the 100-day-long march to China was dangerous and pointless.

Many young Tibetans criticise his conciliatory approach towards China, calling for a sharper goal of independence for Tibet rather than the “genuine autonomy” that he espouses.

Police have repeatedly broken up the march to China and impounded their supplies truck, but the protesters have regrouped and tried to force their way through a heavy security cordon.

“In addition to tanks and troops in Lhasa, Chinese authorities are now shrouding the Tibet torch relay in secrecy,” said Tenzin Choeying, National Coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet India.

“The secrecy and repression surrounding the Olympic torch relay in Tibet betrays the fundamental insecurity of China's brutal occupation.”