We didn't start the protests, say exiled Tibetans | india | Hindustan Times
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We didn't start the protests, say exiled Tibetans

india Updated: Mar 18, 2008 12:54 IST
Jonathan Allen

China says the Dalai Lama "organised, premeditated and masterminded" the violent uprising in Tibet, but exiled Tibetans of every stripe say no one outside the region is coordinating the protests.

"What can I say, these are baseless accusations," Tenzin Taklha, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual leader, said with an exasperated laugh.

He was responding to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's statement on Tuesday that the "Dalai clique" incited the protests.

"It started off with just one or two incidents. Because of technology, because of word of mouth, word quickly spread. This was very spontaneous," Taklha said.

The region's biggest protests in two decades, exiled Tibetans say, are a spontaneous outburst by a long-oppressed people aware they have the world's attention again as August's Beijing Olympic Games draw near.

"I know people can't believe that there isn't coordination," Lhadon Tethong, the director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in an interview at the group's office in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala, the exiled Tibetan government's adopted home.

"But," she added in a whisper, "it's not there."

No one, from the Tibetan parliament downwards, denies there is furtive contact between the exiled, most of whom now live in India, and those left behind.

Mostly it is phone calls between relatives separated by the Himalayas and a snowy border patrolled by Chinese guards.

Buddhist monks in Dharamsala have even summoned journalists in the last few days to gather around mobile phones and listen to what are apparently the anxious voices of people in Tibet.

Many Tibetans get to hear the radio, including Tibetan-language broadcasts from the exile community.

But the most this contact can do is give people in Tibet the confidence their actions will not go unnoticed, exiles say; anything more coordinated would almost certainly capture the attention of Chinese authorities.

"Tibetans inside know what's happening in the outside world," said Tethong, as her young colleagues busied themselves uploading protest video footage onto websites they hope are not yet blacked out by Chinese censors.

"There's this cycle -- they do things inside, it inspires us, we do things outside, and it feeds back. The Chinese may have divided us for now, but we're a community."

Anger boils over

Coming five months before the Beijing Olympics, the March 10 anniversary this year of the failed Tibetan uprising in 1959 was a natural moment for anger to boil over, said Dalai Lama spokesman Taklha.

China says 10 people have been killed in the protests. The exiled Tibetan government says it has confirmed 80 deaths, and believes there have been hundreds more.

"In Lhasa, there's a growing feeling of desperation, especially in the last few years as you've had more and more Chinese coming in to Tibet," Taklha said earlier.

On Sunday, the Dalai Lama dismissed with a characteristic chuckle the idea he somehow organised the protests. But he added that if people find "a peaceful way to protest their deep resentment, it's right".

Just a day later, Samdhong Rimpoche, the prime minister of the exiled Tibetan government, felt less sure he could give that kind of advice, especially as the Chinese authorities' deadline for protesters to surrender loomed.

"It is for them to decide, people living inside Tibet," he said.

"We are just staying in a very comfortable position, there is no danger, just talking, talking. It is their question of life and death. How can I say it should stop or continue?"