By Jonathan Allen
Tibetans living in exile hold the Tibetan national flag during a protest in New Delhi August 8, 2007. Thousands of Tibetans marched through New Delhi on Wednesday, shouting slogans and waving flags in protest against China's actions in Tibet at the start of the one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympics. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan
NEW DELHI, Aug 8: Thousands of Tibetans marched through New Delhi on Wednesday, shouting slogans and waving flags in protest against China's actions in Tibet at the start of the one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympics.
In one of the biggest rallies by Tibetans in India, about 10,000 Tibetans, including maroon-robed Buddhist monks and women in traditional costumes, bellowed their demands, asking China to prove it was upholding the rights of people living in Tibet.
"The essence of the Olympics is equality, but we do not have equality in Tibet," said Kalsang Godrukpa, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, the main organiser of the rally.
"China doesn't deserve the Olympics until Tibet is free," he told reporters, as protesters marched by wearing yellow baseball caps and waving Tibetan flags and giant posters of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 and Beijing has since ruled the Himalayan region. About 120,000 Tibetans are exiled in India, including the Dalai Lama who fled after a failed uprising in 1959.
Amnesty International and other rights groups say China is severely restricting the freedom of Tibetan people and suppressing their culture. China says it is helping a historically poor region develop. EMBARRASS LEADERS
China is trying to look its best as it comes under increasing international scrutiny in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, and protesters hope they can get enough attention to embarrass its leaders into meeting their demands.
"The world will hear us and support us, and if the world supports us then China will have to listen to us," said Tsetan Ngodup, a 43-year-old protester.
Scores of policemen with canes watched the mile-long parade of protesters as they marched towards parliament, before being stopped from entering the high-security zone.
Wednesday's protest came as a hunger strike by 14 Tibetans entered its 32nd day. They are asking Beijing to provide evidence that the Panchen Lama -- who they believe to be their second highest spiritual leader -- is alive, among other demands.
The 14 lay listless on cots under a tarpaulin shelter close to the site of the protest. Some ran prayer beads through their hands as a nurse tended to a woman with a wet sponge.
Tashi Wangu, a 54-year-old farmer, said the 14 would fast until China reassured them that it would uphold the civil rights of Tibetan people.
He said he was not disheartened when the Dalai Lama urged the strikers on Tuesday to end their fast saying their strike was brave but that sacrificing more Tibetan lives was unlikely to make China relent.
"We will keep on fasting," Wangu said through a translator. "The pain is nothing, and our demands are so simple -- we just want a response from China guaranteeing Tibetans' human rights."