04/17/2008, 00.00
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The torch goes to India, amid protests for the Tibetan victims and police protection

by Nirmala Carvalho
Numerous peaceful protests greet the "torch of shame". The route is reduced from 9 kilometres to 2.3. Tibetan exiles: if the torch passes through Tibet, there is the risk of greater repression and more deaths, and the International Olympic Committee will be responsible.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Today in India, the Olympic torch was met by protests on the part of Indians and Tibetan exiles, and was protected by more than 15,000 policemen. Last night in Siliguri, a candlelight vigil was begun in memory of the hundreds of Tibetans killed during the Chinese occupation. This morning, the protests began in front of the Chinese consulate in Mumbai, which dozens of Tibetans tried to enter. The police pulled them away, and arrested 45 of them. Before the arrival of the torch at the airport, 32 Tibetan exiles occupied the street near the Army Research and Referral Hospital in Dhaula Kuan, near Rajpath, where the torch is expected to pass. The police arrested all of them. Shortly thereafter, about 30 Tibetans and Indians wearing yellow jackets with "Free Tibet" written on them took to the streets and began chanting pro-Tibet slogans, near the hotel of Janpath, along the scheduled route. The police intervened immediately, clearing the street and arresting at least 4 demonstrators.

There have been many peaceful protests by small groups, and they have been suppressed immediately: Shibayan Raha, an Indian and a spokesman for Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), was arrested solely for waving a Tibetan flag and shouting "No to the torch in Tibet". Before his arrest, he said "We will not stand and clap as China carries the Olympic torch, now a symbol of oppression, to India Gate and Rajpath, important symbols of India's freedom dedicated to the lives of our nation's martyrs".

More than 5,000 Tibetans and Indians gathered in Sathya Sthal for the passage of the "alternative" torch "for the freedom of Tibet", which will travel all the way to Jantar Mantar, where a mass demonstration is planned to call for an immediate end to the repression.

The torch's route was reduced from 9 kilometres to 2.3, for security reasons, from Rajpath to the presidential residence Rashtrapathi Bhavan at India Gate, carried by 70 torchbearers.  But four of them refused, because of Chinese repression in Tibet or for "personal" reasons: these included Baichung Bhutia, captain of the national football team, and Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, famous players of cricket, which is perhaps the sport most widely followed in the country.  And since April 13, on the beach in Fort Kochi, a 25-metre statue of an extinguished torch has stood, with the words: "Olympics Torch of Shame with No Flame".

The torch's route was overseen by 15,000 policemen. "The capital is turned into a security fortress", Tenzin Choeying, an SFT director, tells AsiaNews, "even if the torch's path is publicised as a journey of harmony.  But there is no harmony in Tibet, the torch of Beijing symbolises the torture suffered by the Tibetans, the violence of the Chinese army, the lack of religious freedom and the systematic elimination of our language and our culture.  We have news of mass arrests in Tibet.  The IOC must immediately remove Tibet from the torch's route, otherwise there is the risk of aggravating the already extremely tense situation, and of making the committee responsible for further deaths and repression.  The IOC must ask China to stop the brutality, and insist upon the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet".

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