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Tibetan exiles arrested for marching in protest begin hunger strike
India Tibet 5171806
Indian police detain marching Tibetan protestors at Dehra, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Kangra district boundary that surrounds Dharmsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, Thursday, March 13, 2008. Police detained more than 100 Tibetan exiles marching in northern India to Tibet in protest of China's Olympic Games early Thursday morning, organizers and officials said. - photo by Associated Press
    DEHRA, India — More than 100 Tibetan exiles began a hunger strike Thursday after police in northern India dragged them away from a six-month march to their homeland to protest China’s hosting of the Olympic Games.
    The demonstrators had vowed to march from India to Tibet to coincide with the start of the Aug. 8-24 Games. Indian officials — fearing the march would embarrass China — banned the exiles from leaving the Kangra district that surrounds the city of Dharmsala — the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.
    The exiles resisted arrest by sitting or lying down, but they were hauled into police buses here in the town of Dehra, about 12 miles from the district boundary. Some wept or shouted ‘‘Free Tibet!’’ and other slogans, but there was no violence, witnesses said.
    Senior police official Atul Fulzele said the protesters were charged with threatening the region’s ‘‘peace and tranquility.’’ Hours after being charged, the protesters began a hunger strike.
    The Tibetan exiles appeared before a magistrate late Thursday and were asked to sign a statement promising to refrain from political activity ‘‘now and in the future,’’ Tenzin Palkyi, a march coordinator, told The Associated Press.
    In the past, protesters charged with similar offenses have been released after formally pledging not to carry on demonstrating.
    But the marchers refused and were told that they would be detained for 14 days, Palkyi said. They were being held in a hotel because the jail cannot accommodate them all.
    No government official was immediately available to verify Palkyi’s comments.
    Nine people from the U.S., Scotland, Germany, Poland and Australia, who were marching with the Tibetans but were not arrested, began a hunger strike of their own, said Clay Di’Chro, a U.S. citizen.
    Despite the arrests, organizers vowed to continue the march.
    ‘‘We will have to find a way,’’ said Palkyi. ‘‘Our legal team will deal with the police.’’
    The march began Monday, the day Tibetans commemorated their 1959 uprising against China. Demonstrations took place around the world, including a protest by 300 Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. That protest is believed to be the largest in the city since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence demonstrations in 1989.
    Soldiers and police were deployed around two Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa, witnesses and residents said Thursday.
    A man who answered the phone at the Sera Monastery said monks had been confined inside. Another Lhasa resident, who also refused to be identified, said the Sera and Drepung monasteries were encircled by army personnel and police.
    It is extremely difficult to get independent verification of the events in Tibet since China maintains rigid control over the area.
    Earlier Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang confirmed that protests had taken place, but said the situation had ‘‘stabilized.’’ Qin accused exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of inciting separatism, though he provided no evidence.
    Qin also said China’s determination to ‘‘safeguard national unification’’ is firm, so further protests ‘‘will not take place.’’
    Beijing maintains that Tibet is historically part of China, but many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping it with Han people, the majority Chinese ethnic group.
    Associated Press writer Tini Tran in Beijing contributed to this report.

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