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Six Tibetans arrested for symbolic Saka Dawa protest in Lhasa

June 13, 2009

By Phurbu Thinley


Dharamsala, June 11, 2009 (Phayul) Chinese authorities on Sunday arrested at least six Tibetans in the Tibet’s capital Lhasa after a large group of Tibetans observed Saka Dawa festival in the city to coincide with conferment of honorary citizenship to Dalai Lama in Paris, sources said.


The six Tibetans have been identified as Pedo, Phurba, Dolkyab(Dokyab), Dorjee Tsering and Pema Demay from Kham Derge and Thuppa from Kham Nangchen.


Chinese authorities in Lhasa had earlier stepped up restrictions on the religious activities of Tibetans in the city ahead of the holy Buddhist festival, which celebrates the three most important events of the life of Lord Buddha - his birth, enlightenment and parinirvana (death).


The concerned authorities in Lhasa issued strict orders, particularly to students and government officials barring them from visiting temples during the festival.


The Saka Dawa, the fourth month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, is also observed by Tibetan Buddhists as holy month, when hundreds and thousands of Tibetan Buddhists flock to holy sites to offer prayers and engage in spiritual activities.


The sources said the six Tibetans were among a group of more than 200 Tibetans who gathered on Sunday around 11:00am local time at Lhasa’s Tromsikhang market.


Clad in their celebratory traditional dresses, the group collected a large sum of money and chanted “Lha Gyalo” (victory to god), before heading to Tsuglag-Khang (Central Cathedral) to offer butter lamps and perform rituals at Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest shrine. Sources said the group was mainly led by Lhasa-based merchants from Kham.


The crowd then moved through the open Barkhor street and assembled at the compound in front of the Potala Palace, the official residence of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. Turning their back to a stone pillar placed by Chinese government and facing the Potala Palace the Tibetans wore ceremonial scarves around themselves and again shouted “Lha Gyalo” in unison, sources explained.


A large number of Chinese security forces later stopped the group as they headed towards the monastery of Nechung (Tibet's State Oracle) and forced them to retreat.


However, at around 4:00 in the evening, a larger group of Tibetans gathered again at Tromsikhang.


Seeing so many people come together at a time in the market, the sources said, the Chinese police demanded explanation from Tibetans for the assembly. The Tibetans reportedly told the Chinese they were simply practicing the "freedom of religious belief".


Police arrested several Tibetans from the group, but were later released, except the six who were held. The Tibetans kept demanding for the release of the remaining six. Chinese authorities initially appeased the infuriated crowd saying they would be released following a casual inquiry about the gathering.


Despite the assurance, the latest updates from the sources confirmed they have not been released yet.


Sources said the Tibetans were vowing to launch major protests if they fail to secure their release anytime soon.


Despite repeated diplomatic warnings from Beijing, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe welcomed the Dalai Lama and presented the “Citizen of Honor” to the Tibetan leader on Sunday, an auspicious day for Tibetan Buddhists as they observe the holy Saka Dawa festival.


The Dalai Lama returned to Dharamsala, his exile hometown in north India, this afternoon after completing a two-week tour of Europe. During the tour, he met with Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Mr. Per Stig Møller in Denmark and, also visited Iceland and Netherlands before ending the trip in France.

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