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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibetan freedom movement growing

April 8, 2008

By Robert King
robert.king@indystar.com
April 6, 2008


The latest protests in Tibet have given Ball State University professor
Larry Gerstein new support for his 20-year campaign for Tibetan
independence.

Gerstein, a Fishers resident who is president of the 10,000-member
International Tibet Independence Movement, has been making the case
since the late 1980s that Tibetans deserve to be free from the
oppressive rule of the Chinese government.

But it took the protest that started last month in Tibet -- led by
Tibetan Buddhist monks and met with violence by Chinese security forces
-- to animate the movement in ways Gerstein has never before seen.

His e-mail inbox overflows daily with queries from supporters across the
country and abroad. Demonstrations he helps coordinate at places such as
the Chinese consulate in New York now attract 500 people a day -- far
more than past events even with months of advance organizing.

And on Tuesday, more than 8,000 people from Gerstein's group and other
Tibetan organizations are expected to descend on San Francisco just
ahead of the Olympic torch's arrival for its brief tour in America.

"This uprising in Tibet and the brutal crackdown on the Tibetan people
has really inspired all of us," Gerstein said. "It has made clear that
their spirits (in Tibet) haven't been destroyed and their desire for
independence hasn't been wiped out."

Gerstein, 56, would like to see the United States and other countries
boycott the Summer Olympics in Beijing. More immediately, he says, plans
to take the Olympic torch through Tibet should be canceled, lest more
violence be spurred. Tibetan exiles say nearly 140 people have been
killed in recent clashes. Chinese officials put the number at 22.

For Arjia Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk living in Bloomington, the
events of the past three weeks are significant both personally and
politically. Born in 1950, he escaped Tibet in 1998 but still has
brothers and sisters and former students and teachers living there.

"All of them are suffering now," he said.

The bigger picture is that he longs for Tibet to have religious and
cultural freedom. He, like the Dalai Lama, does not advocate total
independence for Tibet but is willing to accept a "middle way" --
remaining a part of China but with enough autonomy so the mountain
nation may run its own affairs.

Currently, the Chinese government sets limits on the number of monks,
requires them to seek government permits for rituals and prohibits
veneration of the Dalai Lama.

Rinpoche said he doesn't desire an Olympic boycott because the Chinese
people, with whom he has no quarrel, want the games. But he also says it
is wrong for China to blame the current unrest on the Dalai Lama, whose
elder brother, Thubten J. Norbu, is a former Indiana University
professor who still lives in Bloomington.

The demonstrations that began March 10, Rinpoche said, were not
orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, as China contends, but were part of an
annual observance marking the first Tibetan uprising against Chinese
control. The protests grew violent, he said, only after the Chinese
police cracked down on the protests.

Like Gerstein, Rinpoche is hopeful the current turmoil -- and the
pressure on China from the Olympics -- could bring change for Tibet.

"Maybe this thing that started out rough and difficult," he said, "can
become a good thing."
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