Tibetan refugees march home as Olympics near
With the Olympics only months away, 100 Tibetan refugees set off on a march to Tibet from India on Monday, to protest what they see as China's illegal occupation of their homeland.
Organisers said several thousand people, Tibetans, Indians and Westerners, accompanied the marchers as they set off from the Indian town of Dharamsala, home to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the refugees' "government-in-exile".
"Everybody is pumped up," Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress told Reuters. "Many people were in tears as they said goodbye to the marchers."
"As refugees we have a right to return to our homeland," he said, adding that he hoped the Indian government would allow the march to proceed.
"When we get to the border we will face the Chinese," he said without saying where or when they planned to cross it.
Marchers, including Buddhist monks and nuns as well as young people born in exile who have never seen Tibet, said they were hoping to reinvigorate the Tibetan freedom movement.
They set off on the 49th anniversary of a 1959 uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, which was crushed by the People's Liberation Army, driving the Dalai Lama into exile.
"With the Olympics in China, and the Chinese government using this platform to legitimise its illegal occupation of Tibet, we are demonstrating that Tibet belongs to Tibetans and we will never give up until Tibet is independent," Rigzin said.
The Dalai Lama last week rejected a Chinese accusation that he was trying to sabotage the Olympics, saying he always supported Beijing's right to host the games.
The marchers said they had not sought approval from the Dalai Lama, who has a more moderate line than many of them and says he wants autonomy for Tibet, not outright independence.