March 14, 2008

A cry for Tibet (updated)

The march, which was expected to take six months, reaching Tibet during the August 8-24 Beijing Olimpics in a protest against China’s rule over their homeland, began on Monday in Dharamshala, north-India home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. It has to be said that, while the Dalai Lama, speaking at a separate event in India, accused China of “unimaginable and gross violations of human rights” in the Himalayan region, neither he nor Tibet's government-in-exile have issued any official statement on the march.

The choice of the date was not accidental: on March 10, 1959, a failed uprising took place in Tibet (when the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India). Hundreds of Tibetan exiles—mostly monks, nuns and students—vowed to defy an Indian government order that they stop their march to Tibet's border.

But perhaps the dream is over: on Thursday Indian police arrested around 100 people. In fact, if it was inevitable that Tibetans would use the Beijing Olympics to give a higher profile to their protest, it was also inevitable that India, fearful that the march could embarrass Beijing and jeopardize warming ties between the Asian giants, would be drawn in. Besides, it has to be recalled that on late December 2007 the first Sino-Indian joint military drill (called “Hand-in-Hand 2007”) took place in Southwest China's Yunnan Province. The joint training, according to a brief statement from the foreign office of Chinese Ministry of National Defense, was aimed at “enhancing understanding and mutual trust between Chinese and Indian armies […] and deterring the 'three evil forces' - separatists, extremists and terrorists …” (a second military drill took place on January 2008 in India).

Yet, as Tenzin Tsundue, one of the march leaders, said on Tuesday , the marchers are ready for any kind of obstruction: “We will be very peaceful but when so many people are determined to give their lives up, no police can stop us.” Or, as 32-year-old Tenzin Ladhon said, “If police try and detain us, we will find a way to carry on.” As it was not enough, the exile groups said the march was to be just one of several protests around the world before the Beijing games, beginning from those which took place on Monday in Lhasa, Tibet (where the Chinese auctorities detained up to 60 monks), New Delhi, Kathmandu, San Fransisco and in Olympia, Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics.

Perhaps not all is lost. And this is why I think it’s not useless to quote the following ardent appeal by Tenzin Tsundue:

Here is an opportunity to join a historic non-violent freedom struggle, a people's effort to win freedom for a country that remains subjugated even in 2008. I request you to join us, support us in whatever ways possible. We need people to know about it, so spread the word. You can walk with us, as we walk for six months, maybe you can join us for a day along the path, even one hour, or for a week, months as a supporter. Schools, colleges and even whole town can walk with us. We need volunteers, media people, writers, photographers, bloggers can help us. We need nurses, cooks, technicians and your prayers.

Of course I, as a blogger, have accepted the appeal.


UPDATE March 14, 2008, 9:30 pm

As it was highly predictable the worst is heppening in Tibet. From Financial Times:

In a potentially dangerous escalation, the US Embassy in Beijing said it has received eye-witness accounts of gunfire in the capital Lhasa, apparently as part of an effort by police to suppress the initially peaceful protests.
Chinese state media acknowledged the protests for the first time on Friday, with Xinhua, the government news agency, reporting that shops had been set on fire in Lhasa and many businesses forced to close.
The demonstrations are the largest in twenty years in the Buddhist region where the indigenous residents have long been resentful about the heavy-handed and often brutal Chinese rule.

From International Herald Tribune:

Violence erupted Friday in a busy market area of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, as Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans clashed with Chinese security forces. Witnesses say angry Tibetan crowds burned shops, cars, military vehicles and at least one tourist bus.
The chaotic scene was the latest, and most violent, confrontation in a series of protests that began Monday and now represent a major challenge to the ruling Communist Party as it prepares to play host to the Olympics in August.
Beijing is facing the most serious and prolonged demonstrations in the remote Himalayan region since the late 1980s, when it suppressed a rebellion there with lethal force that left scores and possibly hundreds of ethnic Tibetans dead.