Tibetan exiles in India begin protest march to Tibet

(dpa) - On the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against China, Tibetan exiles set off on Monday on a long protest march from the northern Indian town of Dharamshala to Tibet to protest against Chinese rule over the region.

"The situation inside Tibet is very serious. As we are in exile, we don't get too many opportunities to communicate our plight. The Olympics are taking place in August in China, and we want to send out a message to China that they are not wanted in Tibet," Tsewang Rigzin, president the exiles' Youth Congress, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, and Tibetan activists hope the march will put renewed focus on Chinese suppression of Tibetan identity, said Rigzin.

The protest march, which began in Dharamsala, about 185 kilometers north-west of northern state Himachal Pradesh's capital Shimla, started with 100 supporters.

Organisers believe that many more will join, including Westerners and Indians.

India is home not only to the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a Chinese uprising, but also to about 100,000 Tibetan refugees who live in 35 settlements and numerous smaller communities, striving to keep their cultural identity alive while adapting to a foreign land.

Activists have not fixed the exact route of the march, but will stop in New Delhi to decide on the further course of the march, and hope to enter Tibet just before the Olympics begin in China on August 8, said Rinzin.

The Dalai Lama has in recent years been reported to have backed away from advocating full independence for Tibet.

The spiritual leader on Monday was expected to call on Chinese authorities to permit greater freedom for Tibetans in Tibet.

In preparation for the march, activists and volunteers attended a three-day training programme on non-violent resistance and discipline at Dolmaling Nunnery in Dharamshala.

Sales of the Tibetan flag, and T-shirts emblazoned with printed flags, rose days before the march.

One of the major Buddhist monastries in Dharamsala, Norbuling, was closed for visitors for two days in preparation of the march.

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