Tibetans Play Down New Year Celebrations Amid Increased Security

Posted February 22nd, 2012 at 6:45 am (UTC-5)
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Tibetans in northwest China observed the beginning of the traditional new year Wednesday with subdued ceremonies, following a series of self-immolations and protests against Chinese rule.

The Chinese government has tightened security and cut off communication with some of the restive areas in hopes of preventing an outbreak of protests at the new year.

The intense security prompted Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, to urge Tibetans not to celebrate the Tibetan New Year, known as Losar, but instead pray 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.”

The situation at the Labrang monastery in Gansu province appeared calm on Tuesday, ahead of the celebrations. But a Tibetan monk who wished to remain anonymous said many will not be observing the occasion.

“We aren't having Losar. There's too much pressure on the monks and the common people, so we're having no Losar. Losar is our religious event. We shouldn't celebrate it.”

Many Tibetans around the world are following his lead, choosing to mark the first day of the new year, not with celebrations, but 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.

“Instead of celebrating, we decided…not to celebrate the Tibetan New Year. So we are here to protest.”

In the northern Indian city, Dharamsala, Tibetans held scaled-back celebrations with their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Nawng Chodak, the Tibetan secretary of the religion and cultural department, says the celebrations at the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile will be low-key.

“We will do the ritual part of the celebrations of the Tibetan New Year. But we are not going to celebrate the Tibetan New Year in a normal way because lots of Tibetans have self-immolated themselves. So in support of their gesture, we are not going to celebrate.”

More than 20 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the past year to protest what they call Chinese efforts to suppress their religion and culture.

Chinese officials call the self-immolations a form of terrorism. They also accuse the Dalai Lama and other foreign groups of encouraging violence against Chinese authorities.