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Nepal cracks down on Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations

world Updated: Jul 06, 2010 12:23 IST

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Mindful of China's displeasure, Nepal's caretaker government on Tuesday cracked down on the birthday celebrations of exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, preventing mass prayers in monasteries and asking its own lawmakers to stay away.

Hundreds of riot police personnel were deployed in the Swayambhunath and Boudhanath areas of Kathmandu valley, where some of the world's best-known Buddhist shrines and monasteries are located and which is home to the Tibetan diaspora in Nepal.

They were intended to intimidate residents, monks, nuns and schools into not observing any public programmes to celebrate the birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who turned 75 Tuesday, making him the longest-living Tibetan head.

Policemen were also posted at the gates of the major Buddhist monasteries in a bid to prevent the residents from attending the prayers held to wish the revered leader a long life and good health.

But despite the obstacles, the determined Tibetan community held a mass prayer meeting in nearby Lalitpur district, at the Jawalakhel Tibetan Refugee Camp that was opened in the past during happier times when the then king of Nepal, Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah, recognised Tibetans fleeing from China-controlled Tibet as refugees and allowed them to live in Nepal.

Over 100 people were detained by police for trying to reach the Jawalakhel camp while security forces scrutinised the traffic intently, stopping vehicles carrying Tibetans and trying to make them go back.

Fearing a major diplomatic embarrassment, Nepal's foreign ministry asked all the 601 members of parliament not to accept invitations by the Tibetan community to attend the birthday celebrations.

The cautionary measure came after three MPs ruffled Beijing last month by visiting Dharamshala, the seat of the Dalai Lama's "government in exile" in India, and meeting him.

China regarded it as a violation of Nepal's "One China" policy that regards Tibet to be an integral part of China.

However, to Bejing's anger, two prominent human rights activists accepted the invitation. One of them, Kapil Shrestha, is a stern critic of Nepal's refugee policy, saying it has double standard.

While Nepal allows Bhutanese refugees to find a new home in third countries, it has however stopped Tibetan refugees from resettling in the US though Washington is keen to grant a haven especially to those who are vulnerable to Chinese bids to have them deported.

An estimated 156,000 Tibetans live in exile, a majority of them in India and Nepal, as a fallout of the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950 and the then boy Dalai Lama's flight to India nine years later following an aborted revolt.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 20,000 Tibetan refugees have made Nepal their second home, living mainly in the Kathmandu valley and Pokhara in western Nepal.

An additional 1,500 Tibetans living in "refugee-like situations."

Shrestha, a former National Human Rights Commissioner who had been invited to speak at the cancelled birthday celebration for the Dalai Lama last year, says Tibetans have helped to transform the Nepali economy.

"There would be far less tourism without Tibetans, and the Tibetan carpet industry has helped to expand business in Kathmandu," he told rights organisation International Campaign for Tibet.

"A small, disenfranchised minority like Nepal's Tibetan community may be an easy target, but a denial of Tibetan rights will ultimately degrade the rights and legal recourse of all Nepali citizens."