Pro-Tibet campaigners to be in Beijing
AFP[Friday, August 01, 2008 17:14]
August 1 - Pro-Tibet campaigners say they will be in Beijing and will attempt to stage peaceful protests during the Olympics despite stringent restrictions ahead of the Games.

"There are people of conscience who are travelling to Beijing, and who are ready to speak out peacefully," said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of New York-based Students for a Free Tibet.

"It just depends on the security situation as to where and when the protests will take place."

Authorities in Beijing have imposed strict security measures ahead of the Olympics, which begin next Friday, largely due to what they say is a major terrorist threat to the Games.

But critics say the measures are an excuse to crack down on any potential protests against China, including on the Tibetan issue, which could cause huge embarrassment to the Chinese leadership.

The rights group, which campaigns for freedom and independence for Tibetans, said some Olympic athletes have expressed an interest in making a pro-Tibet statement during the Games.

"We never thought that there would be such an interest. I think it proves that there are many people of conscience who are also incredibly talented athletes," Tethong said.

She said the group has been urging athletes to make statements of support for Tibetans, including podium protests for those who win medals.

"But I can't say anything about what people may or may not do at this moment," she said.

Tibet, a region situated in the Himalayan mountains and known as the "rooftop of the world," has been under Chinese rule since 1951.

Tibetans complain of ongoing political and religious repression by Chinese authorities, while China maintains it has helped the region to develop.

The issue came to a head in March when peaceful protests erupted into riots in the regional capital Lhasa, prompting a brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities that has been widely condemned around the world.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the Chinese clampdown on the unrest, which spread to neighbouring Tibetan-inhabited provinces of western and southwest China.

China has reported killing one Tibetan "insurgent," while accusing "rioters" of killing 21 people.

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