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Tibetan exiles on Sunday celebrated the 73rd birthday of their revered leader His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, but with no customary song and dance performances.

Hundreds of Tibetans and visiting tourists packed the Tsuglag-khang (Main Tibetan Temple) courtyard to join the official function, attended by top officials of the Tibetan government-in-Exile, including Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, Chairman of the Tibetan Parliament Mr Karma Choephel and other senior officials of the Central Tibetan Administration.

The Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration, which is otherwise a joyous moment for Tibetans, was kept moderate this year due to sad and worsening situation inside Tibet since the March unrest. Tibetan people here honoured their leader’s birthday by offering prayers and planting trees for his long life and continued wellbeing.

Some 200 people from the Trans Himalayan region of India bordering Tibet, including Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Uttranchal, Utrakhand, Lahaul Spiti, Kinour, Kullu, Manali, and Ladhak, also joined the celebration this morning. The members were led by prominent social and political leaders of the communities. According to a press statement by the Trans Himalayan Parliamentary forum, the members on Saturday had a private audience with the Dalai Lama to wish him “long life and to express solidarity with Holiness’ peaceful struggle for the Tibetan cause”. They also organized a candle light peace march for Tibet later in the evening to convey their continued support for the Tibetan people in their struggle for freedom.

TAIPEI, Taiwan: Tibetan and Taiwanese activists carried a “freedom torch” to the summit of Taiwan’s tallest mountain Sunday as part of a five-month, 50-city relay calling for greater self-rule for China-controlled Tibet, sponsors said.

The 21-member team took the torch to the peak of 13,035-foot (3,950-meter) Mount Yu and planted a Tibetan flag there, they said.

“From the summit of Mount Yu, they looked homeward at the Himalayas, praying for the early termination of their exile so they could return home,” said the Taiwan for Tibet Association, a local group backing the Tibetans.

Several of the torch carriers fled their Himalayan homeland and live in exile in other countries.

The Tibetan torch relay, which began in Greece in March, was designed to contrast with the torch relay for the Olympic Games, which open in Beijing on Aug. 8.

It is also meant to highlight Tibetans’ will to strengthen their autonomy and denounce Beijing for its crackdown on demonstrations in Tibet in March, said Thupten Chophed, an official of the Taiwan-Tibet Interchange Association.

Sunday is the 73rd birthday of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, making the Taiwan leg of the relay more significant, he said.

The relay was launched in Greece on March 10 and is scheduled to finish Aug. 7 at Dharmsala, India, base of the Dalai Lama’s government in exile.

China has governed Tibet since Communist troops marched into the Himalayan region in the 1950s. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India during a failed uprising in 1959, has said he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion.

Taiwan has criticized Beijing for what it says was China’s heavy-handed response to Tibetan demonstrations in March. China claims the self-ruled island of Taiwan is part of its territory, although the sides split in 1949 during a civil war.

Dharamsala, June 21: A group of Indian Tibet activists today condemned the parading of the Olympic torch through Tibet’s capital Lhasa, accusing China of “using the Olympic Games as a tool for legitimizing its control in Tibet”.

The group joined by Tibetans, all wrapped in Tibetan National Flag, took part in a street play depicting the “current situation of fear in Tibet” and China’s policy of using the games for consolidating its grip on Tibet. They also shouted slogans demanding to China to leave Tibet and “Free Tibet Now”.

The three-hour relay was paraded amid tight security with police on guard every 200 metres and hand-picked spectators along the torch relay route, according to media reports. Reports described seeing trucks full of troops and riot police in other areas.

Contrary to China’s vows to allow unimpeded media access in the lead-up to the Games, only a selected group of journalists accompanied by officials was allowed into Lhasa for the relay, Reuters reported Saturday, adding “The city remains off bounds to free reporting”.

While protesting the Tibet leg of torch relay, the Indian activists also called on the Chinese government to release details of the 12 people sentenced by courts on Thursday and Friday for allegedly involved in the March unrest as reported earlier by China’s state news agency.

Tibetan Government-in-exile claim they have confirmed information that Chinese crackdown in Tibet has killed more than 200 Tibetans following widespread anti-China unrest since March 10. It also says 1000 more were injured and several more are being held under arbitrary arrest after the heavy military crackdown on Tibetan demonstrators.

China released 1,157 people who were involved in the riots in Lhasa, the official Xinhua news agency said on the eve of the relay, a move, described by AFP as, seen as an attempt to defuse tension about the event.

The move also comes amid concerns raised by Amnesty International, earlier this week, that a quarter of about 4,000 people detained by police during the riots in Tibet in March are unaccounted for. China is also routinely accused by other rights and activist groups of turning Tibet into a virtual prison.

“We are completely against the arrival of the torch in Tibet after all the violent crackdown on Tibetan people,” Tenzin Norkyi, who took part in today’s street protest here, told Phayul.

The Chinese government considerably shortened the original relay route in Tibet to just one day instead of three. The event was further cut short from eight hours to three, citing last month’s massive earthquake.

Rights groups and pro-Tibet protests have condemned China’s decision to take the torch to Tibet and demanded China to cancel the torch relay through Lhasa because of the recent anti-China unrest.

Speaking to Phayul, Shibayan Raha, the coordinator of today’s protest, said “We condemn the decision of the Chinese Government to take the torch to Lhasa. Today’s torch relay in Lhasa was clearly a rehearsed event without any open support and welcome from the Tibetan people”.

“For the Chinese Government, to carry the torch to Tibet is to show to the world that Tibet is part of China and to showcase a harmonious Tibet,” the Indian activist, who is also the Outreach Coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet (India), said.

“Chinese government’s plan to showcase a harmonious Tibet regardless of the deep resentment of Tibetan people against its rule will fail,” he added.

According to him, after the recent unrest in Tibet has sown more awareness about the issue among Indian masses and that there has been a growing support for the Tibetan cause from them.

He feels Indians have greater role to play for the Tibetan cause and thinks his government is not “up to the mark” even when it knows the historical truths about Tibet.

“China wants to show to the world that everything is fine in Tibet; reality we know is Tibetans are dying there and Tibet is locked down to the outside world,” Mr Raha asserts.

“We will seize every opportunity to highlight the situation in Tibet during the days leading to the Olympics in Beijing,” Chintan Raj from Mumbai, who is currently in the town on Tibet study tour under ‘Gurukul Project’ initiated by Universal Responsibility Foundation in Delhi, said.

“In the case of Tibet, we believe in only one thing – ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’, he says.

The Olympic torch relay will travel to the heavily guarded Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on 21 June after the three-day tour that was initially planned was cut to one day. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) remains highly concerned about the level of restriction imposed on the Tibetan people’s fundamental freedoms in the months that have followed in the wake of the March protests.

Since the beginning of June this year, several thousand of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and Public Security Bureau (PSB) forces were redeployed into main market squares, streets, major monasteries and road junctions around Lhasa city to check and respond to any untoward incidents during the Olympic torch relay, which is scheduled to travel from Norbulingka to Potala Palace square tomorrow. According to an official Chinese government website, the 11-km relay will start from Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama and end at the Potala Palace, but it has not mentioned the timing of the torch relay. An official internal circular had been sent to Chinese government departments ordering their heads to discourage their own employees, as well as the common citizens, from taking part in any political activities during the torch relay.

In a press conference during the third Chinese state sponsored media tour of Tibet on 3 June, in response to a question raised by a Hong Kong based journalist, Pema Thinley, the Vice-Chairman of the “Tibet Autonomous Region” (‘TAR’) government acknowledged the intensification of the security forces and identified what he saw as its three main motivations. He concluded that the increased pressure from the Chinese government might be an effort to reduce “the possibility of further unspecified ‘incidents’ in Lhasa during the Olympic torch relay, secondly to check any untoward incident during Saka Dawa (a Buddhist holy month) and finally to crush pro-Tibet Independence activists.”

Mr. Thinley’s perspective reemphasizes earlier comments made by Chinese authorities in Tibet who have promised to “severely punish” and “give no indulgence” to Tibetans who would try to “sabotage” the torch relay.

The move by the Chinese authorities to allow journalists from 29 foreign media groups to cover the Lhasa leg of Olympic torch relay, however, has been welcomed by those calling for increased media access to Tibet. Because the media tours allowed foreign journalists have been so closely monitored and controlled though, for many there still remains something to be desired. Many still believe that the authorities should provide free and unfettered access to all media to shed light on the situation on the ground. TCHRD believes that the media presence in Lhasa for the torch relay would not only do good, but also that Chinese authorities should provide unfettered access to foreign journalist to speak freely to Tibetans, visit prominent monasteries and nunneries which remain sealed off, visit those in detention, or otherwise investigate aspects of the recent protests.

Since there has been a complete lockdown in Tibet and restrictions on the travel of independent international observers to Tibet, as well as severe media censorship, the Chinese authorities currently have a pseudo state-sanctioned license to commit human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, beatings, and abductions of Tibetans. The Centre has recorded the arrests or arbitrary detention of more than 6,500 Tibetans and the deaths of more than 100 others. Additionally, the cases of thousands of injured Tibetans remain unaccounted for since 10 March Protests across Tibet. Reportedly, many Tibetans have also died shortly after being released from Chinese custody, in which they were subjected to inhumane torture. In one instance, Nechung, a 38- year-old mother of four children from Charu Hu Village in Ngaba County, Ngaba “TAP”, Sichuan Province, died days after being subjected to brutal torture in a Chinese prison on 17 April 2008. In another instance, Dawa, a 31 year-old Tibetan farmer from Dedrong Village, Jangkha Township, Phenpo Lhundup County, Lhasa City, “TAR”, died on 1 April 2008 after being severely beaten by Chinese prison guards.

Numerous credible reports received by the TCHRD about the scale and intensity of the Chinese government’s repression across Tibet suggests that authorities have used the March Protests as an opportunity to launch a systematic crackdown on Tibetans’ fundamental rights. The Chinese authorities have deployed a large number of security forces to suppress further demonstrations and have intensified their “patriotic re-education campaign” across all sections of Tibetan communities. So far, the Chinese officials have given only limited information on those who have been sentenced after swift trial proceedings.

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SANYA, China (AP)—After a much-protested journey, the Olympic torch reached this southern Chinese seaside resort Saturday night, beginning what organizers and Chinese citizens promised would be a trouble-free national tour.

The protests and last-minute route changes that haunted the torch along its international relay route were expected to be over. Instead, locals talked excitedly about welcoming the Olympic flame.

“Even if no police were here, we would protect the torch with our bodies!” said an 18-year-old vendor who gave his family name as Zhao. He was selling Chinese flags near the stage where the torch was to be lit Sunday morning.

Actor Jackie Chan and basketball star Yi Jianlian were to be among the 208 people carrying the torch Sunday along palm tree-lined roads looking out over the South China Sea.

Organizers and police said security measures were being taken but refused to give details. Media access to the torch’s arrival was limited to three Chinese outlets, organizers said.

Criticism of China’s human rights record has turned the torch relay into one of the most contentious in recent history. Protests dogged stops in Greece, Paris, London and San Francisco.

The torch’s three-month run across mainland China was likely to be less troubled than elsewhere, although disruptions could occur during the relay in Tibet or the western region of Xinjiang.

Its Saturday leg in Macau went smoothly, but the relay Friday in Hong Kong was disrupted by Chinese shouting down supporters of Tibetan independence. The territory, a former British colony, enjoys broader freedom of expression than the rest of China.

The runners in Macau carried the torch past the glitzy Las Vegas-style casinos that have revived the once seedy, listless port city’s economic fortunes.

Columns of paramilitary police in sportswear jogged beside the torch bearers. The crowd seemed intent on celebrating China, sometimes more so than the Olympics, chanting, “Go China!”

The Chinese government now will have a chance to quiet some of the controversy that has surrounded the Olympics in recent weeks. A broad uprising among Tibetans against Chinese rule and a resulting clampdown led to protests during several legs of the torch relay overseas and highlighted China’s tight control on dissent, religion and the media—issues the government hopes Olympics will deflect.

The torch protests left many Chinese furious.

“Those things won’t happen here because we have class,” said a man who gave his name as Li, as he erected crowd barriers around the torch lighting site in Sanya.

But not many Sanya residents were excited about the upcoming torch relay, despite the Olympics banners and constant propaganda on television. One vendor in the city’s best known street for pirated goods shrugged and offered a souvenir lighter for just over a dollar.

“Like a small Olympic torch,” Sun Ruihai said, flicking it to life.

Click Image for Larger View:

^ An image taken by a British photographer that surfaced in France.

Interesting to say the least, n’est-ce pas?

AP [Sunday, April 27, 2008 16:21]
SEOUL, South Korea, April 27 – A North Korean defector tried to set himself on fire to halt the Olympic torch relay through Seoul, while thousands of police guarded the flame Sunday from protesters blasting China’s treatment of North Korean refugees.

Hundreds of China supporters waving the Chinese flag greeted the torch, throwing rocks at anti-Beijing demonstrators. Police ran alongside the flame and rode horses and bicycles on the relay across the city, which hosted the 1988 Olympics.

The torch relay has become a lightning rod for anti-China demonstrations. At other stops, protesters have focused their ire on Beijing’s recent crackdown on anti-government riots in Tibet. But in South Korea, China’s treatment of North Korean defectors has taken center stage.

One of two North Korean defectors Son Jong Hoon, left, pours gasoline as police officers try to detain them during the Beijing Olympic torch run in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 27, 2008. Son tried to set himself on fire to halt the Olympic torch relay Sunday in Seoul, where thousands of police guarded the flame from protesters blasting China’s treatment of North Korean refugees.
Thousands of North Koreans, fleeing lives of hardship in a country that restricts all civil liberties, have escaped across the loosely controlled Chinese border, rather than attempt the heavily fortified frontier with the South. Many live in hiding in China, where if caught, they are deported back home to face imprisonment in life-threatening conditions.

The man who tried to immolate himself, 45-year-old Son Jong Hoon, had led an unsuccessful public campaign to save his brother from execution in the North, where he was accused of spying after the two met secretly in China. About an hour into the relay, Son poured gasoline on himself and tried to light himself on fire, but police stopped him.

At the start of the relay, a protester rushed toward the Olympic flame and tried to unfurl a banner calling for China to respect the rights of North Korean refugees. Dozens of police surrounding the torch quickly whisked him away. As it approached the city center, another North Korean defector also tried to impede the run and was arrested
There were no further attempts to stop the torch on its 4 1/2-hour trip through Seoul to City Hall, where it was met by some 5,000 supporters.

Some 8,000 police were deployed across the South Korean capital to guard the torch on its 15-mile run from Olympic Park.

The first runner, the South’s Korean Olympic Committee head Kim Jung-kil, jogged out of the park surrounded by police on horseback, on bicycles, in buses and on foot.

Thousands of Chinese also paced the torch. They carried a large red Chinese flag, chanting “Go China, go Olympics!”


Scuffles broke out near the park between a group of 500 Chinese supporters and about 50 demonstrators. The Chinese side threw stones and water bottles at the others as some 2,500 police tried to keep the two groups apart.

A rock hit a journalist in the head, but there were apparently no other injuries.

“The Olympics are not a political issue,” said Sun Cheng, 22, a Chinese student studying the Korean language in Seoul. “I can’t understand why the Korean activist groups are protesting human rights or other diplomatic issues.”

Seoul is one of the last stops on the torch’s international tour, which ends when the flame arrives in Hong Kong on Wednesday. On Sunday, three human rights activists who planned to protest the relay in Hong Kong were barred from entering the Chinese-ruled territory, local media and the one of the activists said.

The torch heads next to North Korea for its first-ever run in the communist country on Monday. Disruptions were not expected in the North, an authoritarian state that tolerates no dissent.

Reuters:

Nagano, Japan, April 26 – Crowds of Chinese students waving red flags and signs such as “One World, One Dream, One China” scuffled with pro-Tibet protesters in the latest leg of the Olympic torch relay in Japan on Saturday.

Commenting on the turmoil that has bedevilled the global relay, International Olympics Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge urged the West to stop hectoring China over human rights.

“You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” Rogge told Saturday’s Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the West wanting to add their views”.

“To keep face [in Asia] is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works — respectful, quiet but firm discussion,” Rogge added.

The global torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games in August has prompted protests against China’s human rights record, including in Tibet, as well as patriotic rallies by Chinese who criticise the West for vilifying Beijing.

As rain fell in Nagano, chants of “Go China” mixed with “Free Tibet” from the rival groups, who at times clashed despite the tight security in the central city, host to the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Four Chinese supporters were injured and three men were arrested, fire officials and police said, including one man who was wrestled to the ground after running into the relay path holding a Tibetan flag and shouting “Free Tibet”.

More than 3 000 police were mobilised for the relay, which comes a day after Chinese state media said Beijing would hold talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader of Tibet, whom it blames for recent unrest.

Japan was keen to avoid the chaotic scenes that marred some of the relay venues elsewhere ahead of next month’s visit by President Hu Jintao, the first to Japan by a Chinese president in a decade.

“I ran hoping for the Beijing Olympics to be successful and peaceful,” said Japanese Olympic gold medallist marathon runner Mizuki Noguchi, after lighting the flame on the podium at the end of the relay.

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NAGANO, Japan (AFP) — Protesters Friday waved the Tibetan flag and denounced China’s rulers as the Beijing Olympic torch came to Japan for the latest leg of a worldwide relay marred by demonstrations.

Japan, which is trying to repair uneasy ties with China, has promised tight security for the torch run on Saturday through the central mountain town of Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Tomonori Hirose, 32, came to Nagano from the western city of Osaka with a megaphone and a homemade Tibetan flag, saying he was outraged by China’s crackdown on fellow Buddhists who demonstrated in Tibet last month.

“I want to shout something out tomorrow at the relay runners, like, ‘Shame on you!'” he said.

As torch-bearers rolled into Nagano, hundreds of Falun Gong supporters marched with a loud brass band through the city’s streets to condemn China’s leadership, which considers the spiritual movement an “evil cult.”

“Stop the mass murder by the Chinese Communist Party,” read a banner held by marchers in yellow Falun Gong T-shirts, who were closely watched by dozens of police.

Separately, at least two demonstrators unfurled Tibetan flags as the Chinese torch delegation stopped at a highway rest area on its way to Nagano, 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Tokyo.

China wants the Beijing Olympics to symbolise the country’s rising clout on the international stage and has been outraged by major protests during the torch relay, particularly chaotic scenes in London and Paris.

A chartered plane emblazoned with the slogan, “Journey of Harmony,” flew the torch into Tokyo from Australia early in the morning.

“I am confident that the Beijing Olympics torch relay will be a success,” said Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to Japan.

He was handed the torch as Chinese embassy officials chanted in chorus, “Success to the Olympics, Fight, Beijing!”

An association of Chinese students studying in Japan said on its website it was organising buses for up to 2,000 people to head to Nagano to support the Olympics and “promote friendship between China and Japan.”

The relay comes to Nagano at a time when Japan is trying to repair ties with China, which have remained uneasy due to the legacy of Japanese aggression in the 1930s and 1940s.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to travel to Tokyo in early May in only the second visit ever to Japan by a Chinese head of state, the culmination of two years of fence-mending efforts.

“We hope that the relay will be carried out in a peaceful manner and an atmosphere in which everybody can celebrate,” Japan’s chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference.

Japan was abruptly forced to change the torch relay’s course after a revered seventh-century Buddhist temple last week backed out of plans to be the starting point due to concerns over Tibet.

The Zenkoji temple instead plans to hold a Buddhist prayer ceremony to mourn people killed in Tibet as the relay sets off from a parking lot.

Japan plans to shut out the public from all stopping points during the 18.7-kilometre (11.5-mile) relay and is reportedly deploying some 3,000 police.

“Police will do their best to ensure safety,” said Shinya Izumi, Japan’s top security official.

But he said Japan will not accept the involvement of China’s specially trained crack unit of torch guards, whose brusque treatment of demonstrators have caused tension in previous relay legs.

Sachiko Maruyama, 64, who runs a fruit shop along the relay route, said that police stopped by a day earlier telling her to remove anything that could be used as a projectile.

“Initially, I was looking forward and I wanted to welcome the torch. But now, I’m not sure what will happen,” she said with a worried look.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian leg of the Olympic torch relay began Thursday amid large crowds and tight security to prevent disruptions by protesters. At least two people were detained as supporters and detractors of China’s government faced off in minor scuffles before the start.

Organizers of Australia’s portion of the relay worried that chaotic demonstrations that marred the event elsewhere could be repeated.

Protests of China’s human rights record and its crackdown on anti-government activists in Tibet have turned the relay into a contentious issue for the Olympic movement. Many countries have changed routes and boosted security along the flame’s six-continent journey to the Aug. 8-24 games in Beijing.

People carrying Chinese flags appeared to strongly outnumber those carrying Tibetan flags or placards supporting independence for the territory or criticizing Beijing’s human rights record.

Television footage showed dozens of China supporters facing off against a group carrying blue-colored flags representing the China’s Muslim minority Uighurs. Minor scuffling broke out as officials sought to separate the two groups into different areas of the park. Police said two people were arrested.