Torch tensions rise as Tibetan protesters gather, Bedi says no

April 9th, 2008 - 7:08 pm ICT by admin  


New Delhi/Dharamsala/Beijing, April 9 (IANS) With just over a week to go before the Olympic torch arrives in the Indian capital, the politics around the flame heated up Wednesday as a former top cop backed out of the procession and scores of Tibetans began arriving in New Delhi to put up a protest - a la Paris and London. Signalling more trouble in the days ahead of April 17 when the Beijing torch is carried through the city, India’s first woman police officer Kiran Bedi became the second person after national soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia to refuse to endorse the Olympic flame.

“I am a sportswoman. I do not want to run with the torch as a caged woman. Why turn India Gate (central Delhi’s main landmark) into a zoo? What is the point of running with the torch?” Bedi asked, referring to the barricades and strict security surrounding the torch relay.

Bedi’s rebuff came as scores of Tibetans from all over the country arrived in New Delhi to firm up plans for the protest.

About 5,000 Tibetans are expected to reach Delhi from all over India over the next one week for the protest against the torch in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Delhi itself is home to over 3,000 Tibetan students.

The ‘march to Tibet’ that started from Dharamsala - the Himalayan abode for the Tibetan spiritual and temporal head Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile - also ended here Wednesday. And the strategising began.

Said Lobsang Yeshi, one of the 200 protest marchers and coordinator of the campaign, at the Tibetan settlement of Majnu Ka Tilla in northeast Delhi: “Our march has ended today. We haven’t planned anything concrete yet but we will find a way of protesting against the torch relay although there is heavy security.”

Since India has the highest number of Tibetans outside Tibet, the protests here are expected to be bigger than London or Paris where anti-China protestors were able to reach close to the torchbearers.

Protests are also being planned in Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Dharamsala, said a Tibetan Solidarity Committee (TSC) source.

The expected protests by Tibetans heightened security fears, leading to the route of the torch relay being truncated to about two kilometres from the original nine kilometres, following demonstrations in Europe.

Security at the heavily fortified Chinese embassy was further intensified Wednesday.

The government has already held four rounds of discussions, including two led by Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan. A team of Chinese officials are expected here early next week to take stock of the security preparations.

Narayanan has assured China that foolproof security would be provided to the torch.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was also involved in the security discussions. But IOA president Suresh Kalmadi reiterated Wednesday that the procession would go ahead as scheduled.

Kalmadi, now in Beijing to attend meetings of the Association of the National Olympic Committees (ANOCA), told IANS over telephone: “In fact, we are discussing how the torch could be carried in a proper and befitting manner so that it looks wonderful.”

Kalmadi, a Congress leader, added: “We have invited young MPs to join the relay.”

The IOA chief also revealed some names of sportspersons scheduled to take part in the torch relay through its route down Rajpath in the heart of New Delhi.

“We have invited 50 people from all walks of life, but a majority of them are from sports,” Kalmadi said. “Among those who will carry the torch are Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha as well as Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.”

Pressure on the government mounted from other sides too.

The Left parties asked the government to stick to its commitment and ensure that the Olympic torch has a safe and full passage through the country.

“The government must adhere to its commitments and see to it that there are no disruptions,” said Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member.

Yechury’s comments came in the wake of apprehensions that Tibetan protesters may force authorities to scrap the Olympic procession altogether.

The Indian Catholic church also appealed to the Chinese government to exercise restraint while dealing with Tibetan protestors.

Expressing deep anguish over the rights situation in Tibet, where anti-China protests have turned violent, Delhi Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao said: “It is sad that while the world was looking forward to the great event of the Olympics in Beijing, it was being marred by a controversy that could easily be avoided through dialogue between the Chinese government and the Tibetan government in exile.”

India is home to over 100,000 Tibetans living in exile here. The Dalai Lama arrived in India in 1959 after the Chinese occupation of Lhasa. The globe trotting Tibetan leader and 1989 Nobel laureate has since lived at Mcleodganj in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.

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