BERKELEY — East Bay Tibetans gathered Tuesday for a day of prayer and protest marking the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising that led to the exile of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Tibetans and their supporters throughout the world staged demonstrations Tuesday demanding more freedoms from a Beijing government that they say has oppressed their people for nearly 60 years.
"They are not allowed to go on the street today," said Lobsang Dharchen of Oakland, joining a chilly morning gathering of more than 100 people in downtown Berkeley. "People there don't have a right to say their opinions."
Dharchen said he was 14 when he fled Tibet in 1985, accompanying five other teenagers who spent two months crossing through a mountainous region into Nepal.
Just after 8:30 a.m., Mayor Tom Bates hoisted a Tibetan flag beside an American one on a flagpole outside Berkeley City Hall — a city tradition performed every March 10 since 1996. After a rally and moment of meditation there, demonstrators joined others for a daylong protest in San Francisco.
The day is considered a solemn occasion for the many Tibetan immigrants in the Bay Area whose families were among tens of thousands who fled their homeland after Chinese forces cracked down on a March 1959 uprising.
The Dalai Lama, a revered spiritual and political figure, has led Tibetan exiles from his home in northern India for the past half-century. UC Berkeley officials recently announced that the 73-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, now in semiretirement, will visit Berkeley next month for the first time since 1997. It will be his fifth Bay Area visit this decade.
A year ago, protests inside Tibet marking the 49th anniversary of the uprising led to violence. Chinese officials argue that ethnic Tibetans were lashing out against Han Chinese residents of Tibet, while Tibetans have said that the violence stemmed from police attacking monks who were peacefully demonstrating. In April, mass protests followed the torchbearers of the Beijing Summer Olympics as they carried the flame on a worldwide tour that included a stop in San Francisco.
Berkeley resident Dechen Tsering, president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, said that many Tibetans have been killed and many more detained in the past year. The Tibetan struggle, she said, is one for self-determination and the ability to maintain Tibet's distinct culture and society under Chinese rule.
"We are also standing up for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble," she said. "These are some of the basic human rights the Chinese government has consistently violated in Tibet, especially in the last year."
Protesters marched Tuesday to San Francisco City Hall and the Chinese consulate and were scheduled to hold an evening vigil at Union Square.
Tsering said the Dalai Lama has planned a private meeting with the local Himalayan community next month to discuss the current situation in Tibet. His public "Peace Through Compassion" talk is scheduled for April 25 at the Greek Theatre and is co-sponsored by UC Berkeley's Blum Center for Developing Economies and the American Himalayan Foundation.
A report published Tuesday in Xinhua, a state-owned Chinese newspaper, reflected the Chinese government's portrayal of the Dalai Lama as the secessionist leader of a "feudal serfdom" who has fabricated stories about human rights abuses.
"In 1959, after the failed rebellion by the Dalai Lama and his followers, the central government of China carried out the long-delayed emancipation of millions of serfs and slaves in Tibet," the report said. "Great achievements have been made in Tibet since then in various fields such as politics, economy and culture."
The Dalai Lama countered assertions such as those in a five-page statement released Tuesday, which was read by his supporters in Berkeley at the morning rally.
He wrote that Chinese leaders have, for the past year, conducted "a huge propaganda effort with the intention of setting the Tibetan and Chinese peoples apart and creating animosity between them. "... I would like once again to urge our Chinese brothers and sisters not to be swayed by such propaganda, but, instead, to try to discover the facts about Tibet impartially."
He said that after a special meeting of Tibetan exiles convened in November, the consensus was to continue to follow the "Middle Way" that exile leaders have espoused since 1974. The policy, which has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, favors a nonviolent solution that brings about Tibetan self-determination and autonomy while maintaining China's territorial control over the region.
Reach Matt O'Brien at 925-977-8463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.