By Phurbu Thinley
Dharamsala, February 23: Tibetan exiles Monday staged dramatic anti-China demonstrations as part of a wider movement to boycott Losar (New Year) celebrations in order to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Tibetan demonstrators wave national flag of Tibet during an anti-China demonstration in Dharamsala on Monday, February 23, 2009. Tibetans set off demonized effigies of Mao Zedong and Chinese president Hu Jintao on fire during a symbolic ritual performed by Tibetans to ward-off evils at the end of a year. Tibetan exiles around the world will skip their New Year celebration on Wednesday as they want to remember those who died in last year's protests against Chinese rule.(Photo: Tenzin Dasel/Phayul)
Demonstrators paraded demonized effigies of Mao Zedong, former leader of Communist China, and current Chinese president Hu Jintao before setting them off on a huge fire.
The demonstration was staged as part of a religious ritual (Gutor) performed by Tibetans to ward-off evils and misfortune two days before the commencement of New Year.
Hundreds took part in the demonstration shouting slogans like “Free Tibet”, “Victory to Tibetan martyrs” and “Long Live the Dalai Lama”.Tibetan New Year
or Losar, which begins Wednesday, is traditionally the biggest holiday for Tibetans, but Tibetans around the world and in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibet’s Government in exile, will forgo the celebration this year as they want to remember those who died in last year's protests against Chinese rule.
Tibetan exile groups say at least 200 Tibetans were killed and more than a 1000 went missing in the subsequent Chinese military crackdown.
Today's demonstrations were led by Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest pro-independence group in the exile Tibetan community.
“Both Mao and Hu Jintao represent symbols of evil for Tibetans. Setting off their representations on fire on this day is symbolic of exorcizing evil forces that have brought unprecedented suffering and repression in Tibet,” the organisation’s General Secretary Dhondup Lhadhar told Phayul.
The group last month declared to observe 2009, which corresponds to 2136 Earth Ox Year in Tibetan Lunar calendar, as a “Black Year” for Tibet, as it marks 60 years of China’s invasion of Tibet and 50th Anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule that forced the Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India.
Instead of holding celebrations, the group said it would organize a series of protest and signature campaigns during and around Losar time to highlight China’s “illegal occupation of Tibet” and the plight of Tibetan people under its decades of repressive rule.
The group said its members under worldwide regional chapters worldwide would take part in hunger strikes, peace rallies and prayer vigils to observe the New Year.
“There seems to be a widespread movement among Tibetans inside Tibet to boycott festivities during the Losar as a silent protest to mourn Tibetans who were killed during the government crackdown last March, and we just want to tell them that our solidarity is always with them,” Dhondup said.
The boycott of Losar celebration, which actually comes just two weeks before the 50th anniversary of the abortive Tibetan uprising, has been a cause of concern for Chinese authorities in Tibet.
China’s military last month began a crackdown in Tibetan capital Lhasa, with raids on residential areas, Internet cafes, bars and rented rooms, Chinese state-run media reported. Security forces rounded up nearly 6000 “suspects” for questioning and detained up to 81 during the operation “Strike Hard” by Jan. 24.
Chinese security forces last week detained at least 21 Tibetans in Lithang County, in Sichuan Province, after they shouted “Long Live the Dalai Lama”, “Independence for Tibet” and “No Losar Celebration” in the area’s main market street.
Amid reports of mounting security build-up in Tibet, Tibetan Government-in-exile Saturday asked China to withdraw, what it calls, “undeclared martial law in Tibet.” It also called on China to immediately call off the “strike hard” campaign, and said such moves are likely to further provoke Tibetans ahead.
The Tibetan Government also said it “supports the right of every Tibetan in Tibet and elsewhere to peacefully not to celebrate the Tibetan New Year,” saying such an act is “a mark of respect for those Tibetans who sacrificed their lives in the 2008 protests to highlight the deplorable human rights situation in Tibet.”
Several other prominent Tibetan NGOs in exile have also vowed to forgo this year’s Losar celebrations; first time that such an unprecedented move has been made in the course of their decades’ long freedom struggle.
“Such a spontaneous accord in our approach will not only unite Tibetans both in and outside Tibetans, but will further strengthen our common struggle for freedom,” Dhondup told Phayul, after addressing a huge gathering of anti-China demonstrators here this evening.