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More than 1,000 speak out for Tibet in NYC protest

March 10, 2009

From The Associated Press

More than a thousand Tibetans and sympathizers marched through the city Tuesday, saying they wanted to speak up for a silenced people on the 50th anniversary of the thwarted uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile.

Carrying a portrait of the Tibetan spiritual leader and chanting such slogans as “we want free Tibet,” they followed a more than eight-mile route and rallied near the United Nations and the Chinese Consulate.

They were among demonstrators around the world marking the anniversaries of both the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule and a commemoration that turned violent in Tibet last year, widening the rift between Tibetans and Chinese officials. Chinese troops poured into the region to quell any protests there this year.

“Tibetan people are suffering enormously, and it is the responsibility of Tibetans outside, in the free world, to speak up for Tibet,” Tibetan-born demonstrator Tashi Sharjang, 51, of Howell, N.J., said in New York. “We are hoping for the world to pay more attention to Tibet.”

Organizers estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people joined the column of protesters who threaded their way across the Brooklyn Bridge and through Times Square, some in the crimson robes of Buddhist monks.

Some 95 percent of the marchers were of Tibetan origin, and some had come from nearly 200 miles away, said Tsering Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress of New York and New Jersey, which helped organize the protest.

Some demonstrators had spent Monday in Washington, telling members of Congress about their cause. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., proposed a resolution calling on U.S. officials to press China to find a path to lasting peace in Tibet.

China says Tibet has been part of Chinese territory for centuries, though Tibet was an isolated Buddhist theocracy until Chinese troops invaded the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in 1951. Tibetans say Chinese rule is stamping out their cultural and religious identity, but Beijing says it brought modernity to a feudal society.

The Dalai Lama described Tibet’s half-century of Chinese rule as “hell on earth” in remarks Tuesday from the headquarters of his government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India. He said its authoritarian policies had led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and reduced life there to “constant fear.” Chinese officials blasted his speech as “lies.”

The New York demonstrators called out “shame on China” as they converged across an avenue from the nation’s consulate, waving Tibetan flags and banners that celebrated “50 years of resistance.”

Consulate spokesman Wenqi Gao said officials had taken security precautions but had no other response to the protests.

Pro-Tibet protesters also gathered Tuesday in the central New York community of Ithaca, which the Dalai Lama visited in 2007 to bless the site of a Buddhist temple.

Similar demonstrations were held across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Thousands of young Tibetans marched through the streets in Dharmsala, while police in Nepal – home to thousands of Tibetan exiles – blocked about 100 Tibetans who demonstrated on the outskirts of the capital, Katmandu.

In Canberra, the Australian capital, a handful of protesters scuffled with police outside the Chinese Embassy after about 300 had marched from Parliament House.

Police arrested four people after they broke through temporary fencing bordering a designated protest area, police said. The phone at the press office in the Chinese Embassy in Canberra rang unanswered Tuesday.

A couple of hundred pro-Tibet demonstrators marched down Paris’ fashionable Avenue George V, and more than 100 protesters marched near London’s Houses of Parliament, some dressed in monk outfits or bright traditional Tibetan dresses.

“I could say ‘freedom for Tibet’ here, but a Tibetan person could be imprisoned and tortured for that,” said Julie Speechley, one of the London protesters.

In Germany, Green Party lawmaker Volker Beck called on world leaders to encourage China to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama. A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Berlin.

Some 80 people lit white candles in front of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.

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