DHARAMSALA, July 1: Hundreds of Tibetan exiles and supporters rallied in a northern Indian hill town against the opening of a railway linking politically sensitive Tibet with the rest of China.
Saffron-robed Buddhist monks, nuns, Tibetans and their supporters marched through Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama's exiled government has been based since the spiritual leader sought refuge following a failed 1959 uprising.
"Reject the railway," chanted the demonstrators who wore black armbands as a sign of protest.
The demonstration came as China's President
Hu Jintao launched the 1,142-kilometer (708-mile) rail line, the world's highest, hailing it as "magnificent feat in China's history of railway construction" and a great "miracle for the world."
The train project has stirred huge controversy from those opposed to China's rule of Tibet, which began in 1950 when officially atheist Chinese troops marched in to "liberate" the devoutly Buddhist people of the region.
"Though China claims the railroad will bring economic prosperity to Tibet, we know ... it is a political project," B. Tsering Yeshi, president of the Tibetan Womens Association, told the rally on Saturday.
"The railway will further marginalize Tibetans," she added, as Tibetan shopkeepers and restaurants in the area closed in protest.
Beijing says the railway, running from Golmud in China's northwest Qinghai province to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, will modernise and improve the economic fortunes of the impoverished region.
Critics argue the 4.2-billion-dollar railway will allow the national majority Han Chinese to flood into Tibet, leading to the devastation of the local Tibetan culture.
With China's economy booming, the railway is also seen as key to the exploitation of Tibet's rich natural resources that environmentalists fear could wreck the Himalayan region's fragile ecosystem.