Thu, May 22, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Tibetan exiles set to stage their own Olympics in India

AFP , DHARAMSALA, INDIA

Radical Tibetan exiles are to stage their rival "Olympics" in northern India today, less than three months ahead of the real event to be held in Beijing.

The event will feature just a handful of sports such as swimming, archery and shooting — but is causing embarrassment for unwilling host nation India and frustration for the more moderate exiled Tibetan administration led by the Dalai Lama.

Activists organizing the games say they merely want to keep the Tibetan cause in the headlines.

“Our games are not meant to sabotage the Olympics, but we want to highlight that a world event is taking place just a stone’s throw away from the ferocious oppression of our people,” said Dolma Chondhup, a Tibetan rights activist.

Chinese-controlled Tibet was hit by unrest in March, and the Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured in a crackdown by Beijing.

China says Tibetan “rioters” and “insurgents” killed 21 people, and has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, of trying to sabotage the summer Games — a charge he fiercely denies.

Envoys from the two sides have since held a round of talks, with the Dalai Lama sticking by his cautious ‘middle way’ policy — a commitment to non-violence and a demand for autonomy within China rather than independence.

He is also at pains to assert he supports China as Olympic host, and has distanced himself from the protests that dogged the global torch relay.

The Tibetan government-in-exile is therefore ignoring the event — which was planned before the recent unrest — and the Dalai Lama, currently touring Europe, will be conspicuously absent.

“We are not aware who are the people organizing this program,” the Dalai Lama’s spokesman Tenzin Takla, told reporters in Dharamsala.

India is also unhappy over the event, seeing it as an insult to its powerful northern neighbor, and worse still at a time when China struggles to provide aid to victims of last week’s devastating earthquake.

“This is aimed at ridiculing the Beijing Olympics and so we have made our stand amply clear to the Tibetan authorities,” an Indian foreign ministry official said on condition he not be named.

“These people have done enough to harass the hosts,” he said.

Analysts have cautioned the four-day rival games could be counter-productive — by throwing a spanner in the works of the delicate diplomacy to keeps talks going.

“It’s avoidable because it serves little purpose other than irking China which only recently renewed contacts with His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” Delhi University political science professor Anand Ojha said.

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