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Release Panchem Lama: Tibetans

Thousands of Tibetan exiles in India march to demand the release of the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

delhi Updated: Apr 25, 2008 18:42 IST

Thousands of Tibetan exiles in India marched on Friday to demand the release of the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism, whom they say has been a prisoner in China since 1995.

Holding copies of his photograph and waving Tibetan flags, old men and schoolchildren shouted: "China release him now" in the nation's capital, New Delhi.

Friday marked the 19th birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, named by Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as the 11th Panchen Lama.

After the 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989, Beijing and the Dalai Lama made rival choices for his successor, and the Dalai's choice, then aged six, suddenly disappeared from public view.

Tibetans around the world say he was kidnapped by Chinese authorities and human rights watchdogs have called him the world's youngest political prisoner.

China has denied accusations the boy was under house arrest and insists he and his family did not want to be disturbed.

"They are lying and we are afraid the Chinese may not be allowing him traditional Tibetan education which is so important," Choekyong Wangchuk, a Tibetan protestor, said in New Delhi.

"They want to teach him Chinese ideology, but they don't know that he is a true Tibetan and will never forget his people."

Schoolchildren were drawing pictures of the Panchen Lama and the Tibetan flag, while monks in traditional robes chanted mantras to celebrate the Panchen Lama's birthday.

"We do not know how he looks like now, but I remember how we all protested when we first heard he was kidnapped," said Tanzin Chhakdor, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Many Tibetans shouted: "Free Tibet" and "Where is the Panchen Lama" as volunteers released the Lama's photograph in balloons.

India has been a centre of regular Tibetan protests for weeks and exiles even scaled the walls of the Chinese embassy.

In the country's eastern hill resort of Darjeeling, Tibetans used their blood in a signature campaign to support a freedom call, officials said.

Many shaved their heads and also organised candle light prayers to mark the occasion, witnesses said.

Prayers were held at the northern hill station of Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama in India.