Violence in Nepal as Tibetans protest Olympics

More than 100 Tibetan protesters were detained by Nepalese police during demonstrations on the eve of the arrival of the Olympic torch in Beijing today – evidence that campaigners will continue to use this summer's Games to draw attention to their cause.

The arrests in Kathmandu of up to 130 people came after demonstrators, including Buddhist monks and nuns, gathered outside the Chinese embassy chanting "We want free Tibet". The demonstrators were chased by police who dragged them into waiting vans. Some were reportedly beaten with sticks.

The Nepal protests are the latest in a series of demonstrations, many in countries with large communities of Tibetan exiles, that have dogged the Olympic flame relay.

Protesters disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece, last Monday, unfurling pro-Tibet banners as the event was broadcast around the world. An attempt by a small group of activists to disrupt yesterday's event in Athens yesterday where Greece handed the flame to China was prevented by police.

"In 130 days, the 2008 Beijing Olympics begin," said Liu Qi, the Beijing Games organising chief, before receiving the flame. "We and the other nations of the world look forward to this moment."

The torch was due to arrive in Beijing today under strict security for a ceremony in Tiananmen Square before touring the world.

The protests began in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet three weeks ago, gathering a momentum not seen for at least 20 years as demonstrators called for greater autonomy or independence for the region and attacked Chinese shopkeepers and businessmen. Seizing on the publicity surrounding the countdown to this summer's Olympic Games, supporters around the globe have added their voices, seeking to put pressure on Beijing.

China has reacted with force, dispatching thousands of additional troops to the affected areas within its borders. Beijing claims that 22 people have been killed in Lhasa, but Tibetan exiles say the number is closer to 140.

Chinese state media continued their attacks yesterday on the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual and political leader, accusing him of refusing to enter talks about Tibet's future.

The Dalai Lama, 72, who has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India, for almost 50 years, has said he is prepared to travel to Beijing to meet President Hu Jintao for talks. He has also repeatedly condemned the violence committed by both sides and called for a peaceful resolution. He has said he believes China should host the Olympic Games, prompting criticism from some Tibetans. But in a lengthy article yesterday, the Xinhua news agency cited previous actions and statements attributed to the Nobel laureate that it claimed contradicted his purported willingness to talk. "It was the Dalai Lama clique that closed the door of dialogue," it said.

Meanwhile, a group of international Tibet experts has written an open letter to the Chinese authorities calling for an immediate end to the violence. The 330 academics said Tibet was one of the world's great cultural legacies.

"We call for an immediate end to the use of force against Tibetans within China," they wrote. "We call for an end to the suppression of Tibetan opinion, whatever form that suppression takes.

"And we call for the clear recognition that Tibetans, together with all citizens of China, are entitled to the full rights to free speech and expression."

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