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Tibetan marchers defy Indian police ban

March 13, 2008

DHARAMSHALA, India, 11 March (AFP) — A group of Tibetan exiles
planning to march to their homeland from northern India were back on
the road Tuesday despite a police ban on their trek.

The 100 activists began their walk on Monday as part of
pro-independence protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics. They hope the
march will highlight what they say are serious human rights violations
in their Himalayan homeland.

The group had walked 20 kilometres (13 miles) from Dharamshala before
local police served them with a restraining order sent by authorities
in the Indian capital.

"We will continue on our homeland march despite the order that has
been served on us," said B. Tsering, head of the Tibetan Women's
Association, one of five organisations sponsoring the march which
includes men and women.

The activists said the restraining order warned their protest could
"culminate in endangering public tranquillity and breach of public
peace."

"Tibetan refugees have the right to return to Tibet, the land from
where we come," insisted Tsewang Rigzin, leader of the Tibetan Youth
Congress.

The protest coincides with the 49th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's
escape from the Tibetan capital Lhasa after a failed uprising against
Chinese rule, and comes with the Beijing Olympics five months away.

"This is the first major obstacle we are facing but we remain
committed to marching. We want to do nothing more than go back to our
country and help end the suffering of our brothers and sisters living
under brutal Chinese occupation," he said.

Bystanders cheered the group Tuesday as they walked along the mountain
roads and progressed around 11 kilometres. Police did not intervene.

District police chief Atul Phuljile said, however, that the marchers
would be prevented from leaving his area.

"Unless we receive a fresh advisory and as long as they do not indulge
in unlawful activity, they are free to roam around in this district,"
he told AFP.

The marchers were Tuesday still 40 kilometres from the district
border, and further still from the actual border with Chinese-governed
Tibet.

Organisers say they may take up to six months to complete their march,
and are not giving away their planned route.

They have also insisted they are merely adopting the same protest
tactics championed by the icon of India's independence movement,
Mahatma Gandhi.

"We will adhere strictly to the Gandhian principles of non-violence.
When we confront any situation such as police moves to restrain us, we
will respond as the champions of India's non-violent struggle did,"
said Tashi Tsering, a Buddhist monk taking part in the march.

Dharamshala, in the northern Indian district of Kangra, is home to the
Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Angry Tibetans were meanwhile flocking outside the Dalai Lama's palace
in the heart of Dharamshala as some exiles using loud hailers aired
protests over the police crackdown.

"We the Tibetans have the full right to march to Tibet as no refugee
can be prevented from returning home as per UN charters," the
loudspeakers blared.
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