A reminder to China that the world has not forgotten Tibet

It has been decades since calls for greater independence in Tibet have been so vocal. Now acts of defiance against Chinese rule in the region are springing up all over the world.

Red-robed Tibetan Buddhist monks have taken to the streets of the capital Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army crushing an uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, which forced the Dalai Lama into exile. It appears to be the largest open protest in Lhasa since demonstrations in the late 1980s led to imposition of martial law in Tibet in 1989, when China's current president, Hu Jintao, was Communist Party chief there.

Now, scores of Tibetan activists have begun a perilous journey on foot from Dharamsala, home to the exiled Dalai Lama, to Tibet. The veteran Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue said: "I am walking to Tibet again... I am returning home; why should I bother about papers from the Chinese colonial regime who have not only occupied Tibet, but are also running a military rule there; making our people in Tibet live in tyranny and brutal suppression day after day, every day for 50 years."

The refugees' odyssey hit an early setback when they were blocked by Indian police in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh state until further notice, but the refugees have vowed to continue their march.

China's presence in Tibet is likely to become one of the most controversial issues in this year's Olympic Games, and Tibet activists hope to use the sporting extravaganza to breathe more life into their freedom movement, drawing attention to religious oppression and the damage wreaked to the region's cultural heritage.

All around the world, supporters of Tibetan independence have taken to the streets to mark the anniversary. In Nepal, many protesters were hurt on Monday when police used batons to break up a march on the Chinese embassy; in Greece, activists complained of harassment by police when they lit a torch at Olympia, site of the ancient Games. Last week, the Dalai Lama rejected charges that he was trying to sabotage the Olympics, saying he had always supported Beijing's right to host the Games.

But the 72-year-old Nobel Peace laureate added: "Repression continues to increase, with numerous, unimaginable and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and politicisation of religious issues. For nearly six decades, Tibetans have had to live in a state of constant fear under Chinese repression."

Those most at risk were the 300 monks who took to the streets of Lhasa. They were demanding the release of monks detained last year after demonstrations to celebrate President George Bush awarding the Dalai Lama a Congressional medal. Military trucks, police vehicles and ambulances were seen near the site of the protest, witnesses said, and access to the Drepung monastery was blocked by the army.

China shows no sign of yielding to pressure on Tibet. As far as Beijing is concerned, Tibet is part of its inviolable territory and always has been. Beijing stresses the role it has played in bringing economic well-being to the poor enclave. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, confirmed there had been a protest, which he described as "an illegal activity that threatened social stability".

He added: "Related departments dealt with them in accordance with the law ... We will continue to maintain social stability in accordance with the law and strike hard against all illegal, criminal activities." He gave no details on what became of the protesters. If anything, China's position on Tibet has hardened. The country's leadership has reiterated its tough line, linking stability in the Himalayas to overall stability in China, and urging leaders to focus on economic development, a clear warning to those seeking more autonomy in an Olympic year.

"Tibet's stability has to do with the entire country's stability; Tibet's safety has to do with the entire country's safety," President Hu told Tibetan members of parliament, calling on leaders to promote "sound and rapid economic development". Photographs showed Mr Hu smiling with Tibetan leaders gathered in Beijing for the National People's Congress.

The Chinese condemn the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, and have brutally suppressed demonstrations by Tibetans. Beijing's defence is that it is spending billions of dollars to develop the region and improve living standards.

The Tibetan Communist Party chief, Zhang Qingli, said on the sidelines of the National People's Congress that "the instigation of 'Tibet independence' is doomed to fail" and said the Dalai Lama was trying to undermine the Olympics.

The Tibetan activists marching to the region said they expected it to take six months. "2008 is a huge opportunity for the Tibet movement to present the injustices the Tibetans have been subjected to, when China is going to attract international media attention," said Tenzin Tsundue, who was jailed for three months in Lhasa in 1997. "For how many days can they jail us for just walking peacefully? And why should the Indian government stop Tibetan refugees voluntarily returning home on foot?

"I have climbed buildings to shout for freedom, thrown myself at the Chinese embassy gate in New Delhi, spent months in jails, got beaten up by police, fought court cases, but I never lost the dignity of the struggle: my belief in non-violence," said Mr Tenzin. "The March to Tibet will be non-violent; it is a sadhana, a spiritual tribute to the truth and justice we are fighting for."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager / Section Manager - Airport Security

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn