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Leader-in-exile: Youths lead Tibet freedom fight

March 10, 2014 GMT

DHARMSALA, India (AP) — Young Tibetans are leading the fight to free their homeland from Chinese rule, the leader of the community’s government-in-exile said on Monday’s 55th anniversary of an uprising that led to a bloody crackdown and drove the Dalai Lama to flee into India.

It is not easy for young Tibetans still living in Tibet — isolated from cousins, friends and former neighbors who have gone into exile in countries around the world, Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay said. Those who remain and remember how Tibetan National Uprising Day began in 1959 are aging.

Within Tibet since 2009, 126 people have set themselves on fire to protest China’s heavy-handed rule. Many have been Buddhist monks and nuns calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.

“It is the younger generation of Tibetans in Tibet who clearly and loudly demand their identity, freedom and unity,” Sangay told flag-waving exile Tibetans and their supporters in Dharmsala, where the Dalai Lama and the exile government are based.

“Tibetans inside Tibet will have no memories of traditional Tibet, while Tibetans outside of Tibet will know only a life lived in exile,” Sangay said.

The crowd of more than a thousand people cheered during Sangay’s speech and waved colorful flags emblazoned with the words, “Tibet for Tibetans.”

During a slow, 6-mile (10-kilometer) march through town, they shouted “Long live the Dalai Lama” and “Free Tibet.”

China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent until China occupied it in 1950.

On March 10, 1959, hundreds rose up against the occupation, demonstrating outside the Dalai Lama’s residence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, until their rally was brutally quashed by the army. The Dalai Lama, then the political leader as well as the Tibetan spiritual leader, fled on foot over the snow-covered Himalayas to India.

The 78-year-old spiritual leader, who handed his political powers over to the democratically elected Sangay in 2011, did not attend Monday’s gathering in Dharmsala.

Beijing has blamed outsiders and extremists for trying to incite violence or undermine China, while Sangay and other Tibetan leaders say the self-immolations reflect an increasingly desperate population unable to express themselves any other way.

Beijing accuses the self-proclaimed exile government of seeking to separate Tibet from China. But exiles and the Dalai Lama say they simply want a high degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.

Also Monday, a small Tibetan protest outside the Chinese Embassy’s visa office in Nepal — located between Tibet and India — ended with several protesters detained by police.

Nepalese authorities had deployed hundreds of extra riot police for Monday’s anniversary, hoping to thwart any anti-China protests in Katmandu, police spokesman Ganesh K.C. said. Nepal has said it cannot allow such protests against friendly nations.

Five people who chanted and waved Tibetan flags were loaded into a truck and taken to a detention center. K.C. said five other people were detained separately.

Police were guarding all roads leading to the Chinese Embassy and its visa office, while keeping a close watch on the Boudhanath area in Katmandu where most Tibetan refugees live, he said. Two people self-immolated last year in the area, which has many Buddhist monasteries and shrines.

Thousands of Tibetan refugees live in Nepal, and many travel through Nepal on the way to Dharmsala.