Tibetan New Year’s Celebrations Dampened by Standoff with China

Posted February 22nd, 2012 at 5:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Ethnic Tibetans in western China observed the beginning of the Tibetan New Year Wednesday with subdued ceremonies, following a series of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

In the weeks leading up to the scheduled festivities, China has clamped down on Tibetan activities, cutting off communication to and from the vast ethnic region and flooding flashpoint Tibetan towns and cities with thousands of police reinforcements.

The ongoing crackdown is aimed at curbing year-long protests in which more than 20 Buddhist monks, nuns and their followers have set themselves on fire to protest widely perceived Chinese efforts to suppress Tibetan religion and culture. China calls the self-immolations a form of terrorism.

Wednesday, exiled Tibetan government chief Lobsang Sangay urged Tibetans to forego celebrations in favor of praying for those living under Chinese rule.

“Please do not celebrate Losar , but do observe traditional and spiritual rituals by going to the monastery, making offerings, lighting butter lamps, for all those Tibetans inside Tibet who have sacrificed and continue to suffer under repressive policies of the Chinese government.”

Many Tibetans around the world followed his lead, choosing to mark the first day of the new year with protests. Tenzing Chompel, the president of the Taiwan Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, participated in a 12-hour hunger strike outside government offices in Taipei.

In Dharamsala, the Tibetan exile capital in northern India, Tibetans held scaled-back celebrations with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Members of the elected administration that say it speaks for all Tibetans held a one-day hunger strike.

In the Indian capital, New Delhi, about 50 Tibetan protesters gathered near the Chinese embassy and hurled accusations at China's president Wednesday, chanting “Hu Jintao is a murderer.”

China accuses the Dalai Lama and other foreign groups of encouraging violence against Chinese authorities.