Tibetans rally to send Beijing message demanding freedom

Tibetan prime minister in exile Lobsang Sangay. Picture: Getty
Tibetan prime minister in exile Lobsang Sangay. Picture: Getty
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HUNDREDS of Tibetans rallied in a town in western China yesterday, calling for freedom from Chinese rule in the latest act of protest timed to send a signal to the Communist Party elite as it gathers in Beijing to induct a new leadership.

The protesters, mostly high school students, marched through Rongwo, shouting for independence and for the return from exile of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, according to residents.

Yesterday’s protest was the largest demonstration after days of growing tensions in the town, which sits at the edge of the Tibetan plateau and is dominated by the 600-year-old Rongwo Monastery.

Five Tibetans set themselves on fire this week, two in the Rongwo area, in protests that have triggered gatherings of hundreds of people over the past few days, human rights groups reported. Tibet support groups overseas have said the escalation in protests in recent days highlights Tibetan anger over Chinese rule as the country’s current leaders begin to hand over power to younger successors at a party congress in Beijing.

“Chinese leaders selected during the 18th party congress must recognise that China’s hardline policies in Tibet have utterly failed and only through dialogue can a peaceful and lasting solution be found,” said Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the ­Tibetan self-declared government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India.

“We firmly believe that an end to repression will effectively end the cycle [of] self-immolation,” he said.

Government offices in Rongwo, or the county overseeing it in Qinghai province either declined to comment or did not answer telephone calls. Police kept watch over the protest but did not immediately make any arrests, one onlooker said.

In Beijing, Tibetan Communist Party officials attending the party congress told reporters they believed much of the blame for the spate of self- immolations fell on the Dalai Lama and his associates, whom they said were instigating the protests.

Meanwhile, a senior leader in the ruling party said that asset disclosure for Chinese officials is likely to be slowly phased in over time as the government grapples with the fraught task of rooting out the corruption

Speaking to reporters, Wang Yang, a member of the decision-making Politburo with a reputation as a reformer, said that the province he runs, Guangdong, is exploring methods for officials to declare their wealth and that in the future public disclosure of assets will be required of all officials. “I believe Chinese officials, in accordance with central rules, will gradually make public their assets,” Mr Wang said after a meeting with congress delegates from Guangdong. He did not give a time frame.

At the congress’s opening Thursday, president Hu Jintao warned that corruption threatened to topple the party’s continued rule.