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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."

Tibet Protest March Limps to a Halt

June 20, 2008

By Madhur Singh
TIME Magazine
June 18, 2008

At 9:30 a.m. on June 17, 50 Tibetan activists gathered in the north
Indian hill town of Dharchula near India's border with China. Some 90
days after they first set out to march to Tibet from Dharamsala, the
capital of the Tibetan government-in-exile, they knew their protest
of China's rule of their homeland was at an end. Blocking the way was
a barricade set up by 200 Indian police. Even the most optimistic
among them knew the Indian government would not allow them to
approach the Chinese border, let alone attempt to cross it by force.
They made one final attempt to break through, approaching the
blockade in groups of four, only to be promptly loaded by police onto
two waiting buses. It was all over in an hour. The marchers were
mostly young, exiled Tibetans, the majority of whom have never set
foot in Tibet. There were also a sprinkling of foreigners and
freelance journalists. The Tibetan uprising that had begun amid
widespread fervor and optimism and had spread around the world was over.

The protest started in January when five Tibetan NGOs hatched a plan
to use China's hosting of the Olympics as a lightning rod to attract
attention to their cause of a free Tibet. When the march began on
March 10, Dharamsala was swept by waves of demonstrations and prayer
meetings at which hundreds, sometimes thousands, turned up. Buoyed by
news of an uprising in Lhasa and other parts of China even outside
Tibet, many among the exiled Tibetan youth who took part believed the
day was not far when they would set foot in Lhasa and reclaim their
ancestral homes. The mood was one not just of optimism but of
defiance: their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, did not support the
march and warned that protests would only invite a severe Chinese
crackdown within Tibet. Even if the weight of world opinion was on
their side, China had grown too strong to be influenced and would
brook no meddling in what Beijing considered to be an internal matter.

For a brief period of time, the marchers' insubordination appeared to
be justified. A bloody uprising in Lhasa -- unthinkable a year ago --
drew the eyes of the world before China put down the demonstrations.
It's not known how many Tibetans and Chinese were killed in the
rioting, which started on March 10 and petered out in less than two
weeks. The Chinese government claimed only 13 people died, though
some other reports put the number as high as a hundred. Germany
responded by vowing to boycott the Olympic opening ceremony. France
and the E.U. have said they'd "consider" a boycott. Furthermore, a
diplomatic row erupted between China and France when 'free-Tibet'
protests in Paris spoiled the Olympic torch relay. After noisy
protests followed the torch to the French capital after passing
through London, the International Olympic Committee even considered
abandoning the remaining route of the relay (nevertheless, it has
continued and the torch is due to arrive in Tibet on Saturday June
21). But after a devastating earthquake struck China's Sichuan
province, killing more than 80,000 and leaving millions homeless, it
suddenly seemed churlish to attack China in its Olympics year — as
actress Sharon Stone clumsily demonstrated by suggesting the
earthquake was due to China's bad karma, that "when you are not nice
that the bad things happen to you." Support for the marchers was waning.

Still, they carried on toward the China border, despite interference
from Indian police. On May 27, all five presidents of the NGOs and
one march coordinator were arrested. They were released on June 7.
This time the protesters say they realize they have been stopped for
good, after walking some 1200 km. "We were determined to carry on,
but now that we have the situation at hand, we need to deal with
reality," says Tsewang Rigzin of the Tibetan Youth Congress, speaking
from Dharamsala. "The fact that we continued for so long, in the face
of so many obstacles, so many arrests, so many pressures, is a
victory in itself."

Even the marchers' most ardent sympathizers feared from the start it
would end in tears for Tibet's young and restless. The odds stacked
against them were monumental -- the Dalai Lama's opposition to any
anti-China protests, the inability or reluctance of the international
community to take any meaningful action, and China's dead resolve.
None of these factors is likely to change in the near future. If
anything, the protests seem to have further strengthened China's
determination to brook no opposition in Tibet — already, it is
showing little interest in holding talks with the Dalai Lama. The
'march to Tibet' may well have made the dream of a free Tibet more
unattainable.
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