As the Beijing Olympic torch arrived in the Golden Gate city for relay on Wednesday, hundreds of Tibetan supporters thronged the UN Plaza for the “Rally and candle light vigil for Tibet” with Richard Gere joining them in shouting slogans.
“Free Tibet now”, “Tibet for Tibetans”, “China lies, Tibetans die”, “China is guilty”, were the slogans that Gere raised along with other Tibetan supporters at the candle light even as the authorities stepped up the security arrangements for the Wednesday afternoon’s torch relay. Soon after its arrival at the San Francisco International Airport the torch was taken away under tight security to a downtown hotel. A large turn out at the rally and vigil encouraged the organisers who gave a call to the Tibetan supporters to assemble early in morning on Wednesday as the authorities may resort to last minute changes in the route and time of the relay. “Control your emotions and do not be violent,” they asked the people at the packed UN Plaza even as they gave a call to the world leaders including the US President George W. Bush not to attend the Games’ inaugural ceremony.
Gere, who is also the chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) even read out excerpts from a message from Dalai Lama to the Tibetan people asking them to adhere to ideals of non-violence and “not cause any ‘hindrance” to the games.
Earlier speaking at the rally and vigil an epic moment Gere said the “universe was opening up” to the Tibetan cause. It had all started spontaneously on March 10, 2008 after the “simple demonstrations” in Tibet, he said. Chinese authorities would some day wake up and realise what they had done in Tibet, he said hoping they would only turn to Dalai Lama for his guidance on the issue.
Other prominent dignitaries who joined the protests included Archbishop Desmond Tutu who asked Tibetan supporters not to give up hope and continue their struggle. “People like you supported us in our fight,” said Tutu, reminding them of the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He called upon world leaders not to go to Beijing for the Games.
Significantly the ICT rally also turned out to be forum for others demanding democracy in Burma and Eastern Turkistan. A large banner demanding “Free Burma” was put up prominently on the left side of the dais while a woman speaker raised the demand for free East Turkistan.