Nepal braces for Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations

July 2nd, 2011 - 3:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, July 2 (IANS) Almost four dozen Tibetans have been taken in custody as Nepal Police intensified a crackdown on the diaspora in Kathmandu to prevent any public celebration of the birthday of their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, Wednesday.

While the former god-king of Tibet will be in the US, his followers in Nepal are planning special prayers and other rituals to celebrate the Nobel Peace laureate’s 76th birthday, an exercise that may be under even more restrictions this year.

This year, China recalled its ambassador to Nepal, Qiu Guohong, before the envoy had completed his full term in Kathmandu amidst speculation that Beijing was unhappy at the way anti-China protests had continued in Nepal.

Qiu’s successor Yang Houlan, who arrived last month, has already been active in meeting Nepal’s Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and the chief of the Maoist party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.

The Nepali leaders have assured him that Nepal remains committed to the “One China” policy that regards Tibet as an integral part of the communist republic and would not allow Nepal’s soil to be used for any kind of anti-China activity.

On Tuesday, as part of the preventive measures, Nepal Police arrested 39 Tibetans from Boudha in the capital, an area housing shrines sacred to Buddhists and home to a large number of Tibetans, including monks.

Though the men were ostensibly arrested in an anti-gambling raid, and seven were released later, rights group International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a press statement that there were still 47 Tibetans in detention.

This includes a group of 12 people who were arrested June 21 when they were holding a candlelight vigil both in honour of the Dalai Lama’s upcoming birthday and to express solidarity with Tibetan demonstrators in Lhasa.

On Sunday, in another sign of greater restrictions, police prevented followers from publicly celebrating the 27th birthday of another Tibetan religious leader, the Karmapa. It was the first time that the Karmapa’s birthday celebrations were disrupted in Nepal.

The organisers said they were told to limit the programme within the small courtyard of a monastery and not to parade photos of the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan national flag or banners. They were also asked not to sing the Tibetan national anthem.

Hundreds of riot police fanned out to the areas in Kathmandu valley where a large number of Tibetans live and prevented monks and nuns from reaching the celebration sites.

The ICT said over 50 policemen were stationed at the monastery to prevent the display of the Dalai Lama’s photos and Tibetan flags. Three Nepalese intelligence personnel reportedly entered the monastery hall where prayers were being held and questioned the organisers.

The INGO quoted an official of the Himalayan Buddhist Association, Jigdral Sherpa, as saying that with Nepal being the Buddha’s birth place, the curb on celebrating the Buddhist leader’s birthday was a serious abuse of religious freedom.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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