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Tibetan exiles press ahead with march, defying Indian ban
India Tibet Protest 5103596
Tibetan protesters shout slogans at a foot march in Dharmsala, India, Monday, March 10, 2008. Hundreds of Tibetan exiles began a six-month march from India to Tibet on Monday to protest Beijing's hold on the Himalayan region and China's hosting of the Olympic Games. - photo by Associated Press
    RANITAL, India — Hundreds of Tibetan exiles pressed ahead Tuesday with a march from northern India to their Himalayan homeland, defying a police ban on the demonstration against Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics.
    The march, which started Monday, was expected to take six months, reaching Tibet during the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games in a bid to turn the Olympic spotlight onto China’s often harsh 57-year rule over the Himalayan region.
    It was one of several events launched around the world Monday by Tibetans commemorating their 1959 uprising against China. About 300 Buddhist monks also protested in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, one of the boldest public challenges to China’s rule in recent years.
    India, apparently fearful that the march could embarrass Beijing and jeopardize warming ties between the Asian giants, banned the exiles from leaving the Kangra district that surrounds Dharmsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
    Local police chief Atul Fulzele said Monday the ban was made following a recommendation by the Indian government.
    On Tuesday, the marchers vowed to defy the order.
    Walking single file, waving Tibetan flags and holding aloft pictures of the Dalai Lama and Indian pacifist icon Mohandas K. Gandhi, some 350 exiles followed the road down from the mountains toward the plains of northern India.
    ‘‘Our spirits are high,’’ said 32-year-old Tenzin Lhadon. ‘‘If police try and detain us, we will find a way to carry on,’’ she said.
    Dozens of supporters lined the road as the marchers passed, chanting ‘‘Free Tibet.’’
    By nightfall, the protesters reached the town of Ranital, some 20 miles from the Kangra district border.
    Tenzin Tsundue, one of the march leaders, said the protesters would likely reach the border by Wednesday and would try to evade the police.
    ‘‘This is the fun part now,’’ Tsundue said. ‘‘We are ready for any kind of obstruction. We will be very peaceful but when so many people are determined to give their lives up, no police can stop us.’’
    However, as they set up camp Tuesday, planting a Tibetan flag on a hilltop, several police officers joined the group, some filming the participants.
    Police would not say how or when they planned to stop the marchers. ‘‘We are here to protect them,’’ said Baldev Singh, one of the officers.
    Marchers said they had faith that police would not arrest them
    ‘‘The police will be ashamed to touch such peaceful marchers,’’ said Miwang Nagyal, 63.
    The exiles’ defiance comes as Beijing confirmed Tuesday that Buddhist monks from the Drepung monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa held a demonstration on Monday. Overseas rights groups said about 300 monks marched toward the city, commemorating the failed uprising that forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India.
    In a second, smaller demonstration, nine monks shouted slogans near a temple in central Lhasa.
    The march is believed to be the largest demonstration in the city since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence demonstrations in 1989. Since then, China has pumped investment into the region, vilified the Dalai Lama and tried to weed out his supporters among the influential Buddhist clergy — moves that have alienated some Tibetans.
    The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia and an overseas Tibetan Web site,, reported that up to 71 people, mostly monks, were detained following the protests.
    However, Tibet’s chief administrator Champa Phunstok said authorities defused the incident without arrests.
    ‘‘It’s really nothing,’’ he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of National People’s Congress, China’s annual legislative session. ‘‘Everything is really great.’’
    Asked about the march, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, ‘‘Some ignorant monks in Lhasa abetted by a small handful of people did some illegal things that can challenge the social stability.’’
    He said monks were dealt with ‘‘according to the law,’’ but gave no details.
    Drepung was sealed off Tuesday and increased numbers of armed police guarded temples in and around Lhasa, according to Radio Free Asia and
    In Dharmsala, some 500 Tibetans held a candlelit vigil late Tuesday to support the marchers and protest the alleged arrests in Lhasa.
    Many Tibetans say their territory was independent when communist troops arrived in 1950 and the Dalai Lama has campaigned for autonomy to protect its culture. Beijing says Tibet has been part of China for centuries and accuses the Dalai Lama of agitating for independence.
    Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report from Beijing, China

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