(by Josiah Ryan, April 1, 2008, CNSNews.com) – Hundreds of protesters and members of the Tibetan-American diaspora gathered Monday in rain-soaked Lafayette Park in front of the White House to appeal to President Bush to speak out on behalf of Tibet and to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games in August. Leaders of Tibetan advocacy groups and a congressman also joined the rally.
“No freedom, no Olympics. No human rights, no Olympics,” the crowd chanted in the direction of the White House. “China lies. Tibetans die. President Bush, save Tibet!”
An estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by communist Chinese forces since 1950, according to the Free Tibet Campaign. In recent weeks, China’s clampdown on Tibetan protests has generated much media coverage and outrage, as was evident in Monday’s demonstration.
The majority of demonstrators in Lafayette Park were either Tibetan or of Tibetan ancestry. Several dozen monks in traditional burgundy robes carried Tibetan flags and lit incense.
“President Bush, go to China as a sports fan, and see the games, go and honor the athletes, but do not go and stand next to the dictators at the opening ceremony,” said John Ackerly, president of International Campaign for Tibet, which sponsored the rally. “Use your leverage to tell the world what you really think. Show your respect for the athletes, not for those who arrest and kill peaceful demonstrators.”
On March 18, the Dalai Lama — viewed by most Tibetans as the traditional political and spiritual leader of all Tibetan people — accused the Chinese government of “a form of cultural genocide” and urgently sought the support of the international community. He did not call for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, although since then a campaign pressing for a boycott targeting the opening ceremony specifically has picked up steam, especially in Europe.
Last Thursday, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk became the first European Union leader to announce a boycott of the opening ceremony. His announcement was followed by similar decisions by Czech President Vaclav Klaus and by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who announced Friday she would not attend the Olympics at all.
“China wanted the Olympics, but not the scrutiny,” said Ackerly. “Some years ago China would have been able to get away with this. But not this year. The spotlight is on China now more than ever. Every Tibetan killed, every Tibetan arrested is accounted for. And we are calling on our president to account for them.”
The Dalai Lama’s appeal for help was prompted by unrest in Chinese-controlled Tibet beginning March 10. Though China’s government has restricted media access to the region, it has been reported from various sources that police used lethal force and mass arrests to quell protests marking the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) attended the rally and told the crowd that he has begun to work with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to press for an American boycott of the Olympics opening ceremony. Abercrombie told Cybercast News Service that he hopes to create a subcommittee, possibly under the Human Rights Caucus, to explore the idea.
Abercrombie compared the Chinese-Tibetan conflict to the American civil rights movement. “It’s not the West telling Asians what to do,” he said. “We have been through this ourselves.”
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who visited the Tibetan exile government in India along with Pelosi and a bipartisan congressional delegation last month, said in a statement released at the rally that she was deeply affected by her visit and by remarks from Tibetans exiles. They described “monstrous torture” during imprisonment, she said.
“The nations of the world who will go to the games in August must make the road to Beijing a signpost of protest to free Tibet,” Norton said.
But Abercrombie said he was unsure at this point how much support for a boycott there was in Congress. “I have talked to some of my colleagues,” he said. “Some are reluctant, and some are in favor. The boycott is emblematic of what has to be. Its not going to resolve anything but it gives us a template to bring the issue to the forefront.”
Asked whether there was time between now and August for China to make significant improvements in their relationship with Tibet, Abercrombie said, “There is always time to do the right thing. “
When the rally in front of the White House was over, many of the demonstrators marched down Connecticut Avenue to the Chinese Embassy to continue their protest.
Officials at the Chinese Embassy declined comment despite requests from Cybercast News Service.
All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2008 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. What did protesters call on President Bush to do during a rally in front of the White House yesterday?
2. According to the Free Tibet Campaign, approximately how many Tibetans have been killed by communist Chinese forces since 1950?
3. Re-read paragraph 5. Do you think that Mr. Ackerly’s request is reasonable? Explain your answer.
4. a) Who is the Dalai Lama?
b) Why do you think the Dalai Lama did not call for a boycott?
5. Name the world leaders who have announced that they will boycott the opening ceremony.
6. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) attended the rally and plans to press Congress for an American boycott of the Olympics opening ceremony. What did he say about the effectiveness of the boycott?
7. The intent of a world boycott of the opening of the Olympic games is to show the Chinese government that world leaders stand behind a free Tibet. The hope is that China will then address the issue of a free Tibet. A boycott would be a great embarrassment to the Chinese government.
Do you think that the U.S. should boycott the opening of the Olympic games? Explain your answer.
TIBET (from FreedomHouse.org):
- Communist China invaded central Tibet in 1950 and, in 1951, formally annexed Tibetan territory.
- In an effort to undermine Tibetan claims to statehood, Beijing split up the lands that had traditionally comprised Tibet, incorporating the eastern portion into four different Chinese provinces. The core central and western portions, which had been under the administration of the Dalai Lama’s government, were designated the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in 1965.
- China’s occupation of Tibet has marginalized a Tibetan national identity that dates back more than 1,600 years.
- Beijing’s claim to the region is based on imperial influence during China’s Mongol and Manchu dynastic periods in the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries.
- The defining event of Beijing’s rule took place in 1959, when Chinese troops suppressed a major uprising in Lhasa, following widespread fighting over the previous three years.
- A reported 87,000 Tibetans were killed in the Lhasa area alone.
- The massacre forced the Tibetan spiritual and political leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to flee to India with some 80,000 supporters.
- During the next six years, China closed 97 percent of the region’s monasteries and defrocked more than 100,000 monks and nuns.
- During Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76), nearly all of Tibet’s 6,200 monasteries were destroyed.
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