By Jason Meisner,
March 18 – Hundreds of demonstrators marched through a cold drizzle on Chicago’s Near North Side Tuesday afternoon to protest China’s continued occupation of Tibet.
The rally was largely peaceful, but at the end of the march, outside the Chinese Consulate, a rock came hurtling from behind metal barriers holding back the crowd and broke a second-floor window. The incident prompted police to move in on horseback and monitor the crowd more closely.
One protester was arrested after he apparently used a ladder to climb onto the roof of the consulate to display a Tibetan flag, police said.
Protesters also started a small fire in a metal trash can, but police quickly removed it. Behind the tinted glass windows of the consulate, curtains remained drawn as the demonstrators pointed and shouted.
“Their activities [pose] grave threat to the dignity as well as safety of life and property of our consulate,” Huixun Zhang, a spokesman for the consulate, wrote in an e-mail.
He said the crowd, which he estimated at about 500 people, also burned the Chinese flag. It was the fourth protest this month, he said.The march began at Water Tower Place on North Michigan Avenue and wound its way to the consulate at 100 W. Erie St. Chicago police blocked traffic at intersections to allow the marchers to pass.
With many decked out in the blue, red and gold of the Tibetan flag—which is outlawed in China—protesters shouted “Free Tibet,” demanding that China relinquish the control it has held over Tibet since Chinese troops entered in 1950.
Demonstrator Tenzin Palkyi, 21, a student at the University of Minnesota on spring break, carried a sign with gruesome pictures of Tibetans she said had been murdered by the Chinese government because of their opposition to Chinese rule.
“It’s one party, one rule,” she said. “They won’t let anyone see what’s happening.”
Dawa Phuntsok of Wisconsin said he was marching to bring world attention to the crisis.
“We are doing here what they can’t do [in Tibet],” Phuntsok said.
The march came in reaction to protests led by monks in Lhasa, Tibet, that began peacefully but turned violent. The protests began March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet had been effectively independent for decades before Chinese Communist troops entered.
The increasingly violent demonstrations in Lhasa have left 16 people dead and dozens injured, according to the government. The unrest spread into neighboring provinces with large Tibetan populations. China has denied a claim by the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile in India that 80 Tibetans have died.
As Tuesday’s march in Chicago wound its way through the Near North Side, at times stretching for more than three blocks, motorists honked car horns in support and curious bystanders came out of restaurants to watch the procession.
One protester, who did not want to be named, said many people knew nothing about Tibet other than the Dalai Lama, which he said was not what the march was about.
“This has nothing to do with the Dalai Lama,” he said. “It’s not about just China or Tibet, it’s about basic human rights.”
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating violent clashes to taint the Beijing Olympics, saying Tuesday that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was provoking violence to promote Tibetan independence.
The Dalai Lama urged his followers to remain peaceful, saying he would resign as head of Tibet’s government-in-exile if the situation spun out of control. But he also suggested the Chinese may have fomented the protests in Tibet and neighboring provinces in order to discredit him.
The protests have focused world attention on China’s human rights record ahead of the Beijing Olympics. The Communist government wants to ensure that the Aug. 8-24 Games boost its international image.
In China’s highest-level response to the unrest, Wen on Tuesday underscored the Communist leadership’s determination to regain control of Tibet and nearby part of China and reassure the world it is fit to host the Games.
“There is ample fact—and we also have plenty of evidence—proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique,” Wen told reporters at his annual news conference at the end of China’s national legislative session.
The group Tibetans in the Midwest issued fliers at Tuesday’s rally calling on the U.S. and United Nations to pressure China to meet a list of demands, including immediate withdrawal of all troops from Lhasa, the lifting of “virtual martial law” throughout Tibet and the release of all political prisoners.
The group also wants China to “allow international media to enter Tibet without restrictions.”
Police at the scene estimated the crowd outside the consulate at about 600, although more may have participated in the march. Hundreds were still chanting outside the building two hours after the rally began.
Tribune reporter Dan P. Blake and Tribune news services contributed to this report