By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
DHARMSALA, India, March 18 -- Reacting to a week of sometimes bloody protests in Tibet, the Dalai Lama said Tuesday that he would resign as spiritual head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if the violence spun out of control. At the same time, the revered religious figure vehemently denied Chinese accusations that he was organizing the riots.
"If things become out of control, then my only option is to completely resign," the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate and the exiled leader of millions of Tibetans around the world, told reporters. As he spoke, the narrow, winding streets of this Himalayan town were filled with hundreds of angry youths, monks and nuns, marching and chanting, "Long live Dalai Lama!"
The prime minister of the government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, quickly sought to play down his leader's statement. "I don't think he has said those words without any qualification or context," Rinpoche said at a news conference. "The Dalai Lama has always said, over and over again, that if the Tibetan people resort to violence, he would not be able to lead the people and be their spiritual leader."
"The Tibetan people's commitment to nonviolence remains, and there is no question of his resignation," Rinpoche added.
The Dalai Lama reacted angrily to the statements by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao blaming him for engineering riots in Tibet that have left scores of people dead. The Tibetan leader, who fled China for India in 1959, said that he was open to scrutiny by any international body.
"If you want to start investigating from here, you are most welcome. Check our various offices," he said, adding with characteristic dry humor, "They can examine my pulse, my urine, my stool, everything."
[On Wednesday morning, the Chinese regional government in Tibet said 105 people involved in deadly rioting in Lhasa last Friday had surrendered to police, according to the official New China News Agency. "I was very disturbed by what I did," the agency quoted one man as saying.]
On Tuesday, the streets of Dharmsala resounded all day with the steady chanting of marchers. Maroon-robed monks and nuns carried placards reading "Stop Killing Tibetans" and chanted Buddhist prayers. About 500 students jammed the alleyways, holding up photographs of the rioting in Tibet and shouting "We want justice!" and "We want freedom!"
The parliament of Tibet's government-in-exile has set three objectives for the protests in India: ending alleged Chinese atrocities against Tibetans; getting doctors to the injured and the sick; and obtaining the immediate release of all political prisoners.
But protesters also indicated that they support independence for Tibet. Their rage and despair were palpable as people poured into the streets waving Tibetan flags or wearing them bandanna-style around their heads.
"Our blood is very hot right now," said Dharbon Sharling, 26. "We have waited so many years for China to change its mind. Six rounds of peaceful talks, and we have nothing to show. But now, we are in no mood to spare China."
The challenge of balancing passion and the path of nonviolence was apparent in dozens of interviews with protesters in Dharmsala.
"There is anger. But we know the limits the Dalai Lama has drawn for us. We will not cross that," said Sonam Dorjee, an activist who was enlisting people for a proposed "Return to Tibet" march next week. Monks and students walked up to his street-side desk all afternoon to fill out enrollment forms. "One of the columns in the form says, 'I know the march back to Tibet will be risky and I may lose my life,' " Dorjee said. "People are signing on this form without any hesitation."
Rinpoche, the prime minister, declined to offer a message to those protesting in his homeland or to urge them to keep their demonstrations peaceful, saying those in exile could not direct those in Tibet. "I have no moral ground to give a message to the Tibetans, because we are unable to help them in any way," he said. "His Holiness Dalai Lama has wished that they remain nonviolent. But it is only a wish. They have to find their own way; we cannot direct them."
Activists in Dharmsala, home to about 20,000 Tibetan exiles, walked about all day posting the latest news bulletins and photographs on the town's walls. Exiles who had established contact with friends and relatives inside Tibet called the government with information.
A group of monks from the Kirti Monastery in Dharmsala released 32 gruesome pictures that they said showed the tortured corpses of colleagues in their sister monastery in Ngaba county in the autonomous Tibetan province of Amdo, part of the northern Chinese province of Sichuan. They said they had received the photographs in an e-mail that reported the killing of 20 monks.
"With such horrific evidence, how can the Chinese continue to claim that it is the Tibetans who are violent?" asked Kyasar Leudup, a 28-year-old monk who fled to India two years ago from the Kirti Monastery in Tibet.
When Leudup called his mother in Ngaba on Tuesday morning, she said she and Leudup's father were fine but asked him not to call again, fearing Chinese surveillance. In the afternoon, he called his 14-year-old nephew, a monk at the monastery there. Leudup leaned forward and put his black Nokia cellphone on speaker mode, letting a reporter listen in.
"What is the situation there?" Leudup asked.
"There are a lot of policemen everywhere," the voice answered.
"Can you walk or go outside? Or are you inside all the time?"
"If we show our identity papers and other proof that we are local residents, then we are allowed to go out, walk about and buy food."
"How many people dead?"
"Nothing very clear. I have seen 20 bodies of the monks here. They are kept outside in the courtyard, and people are coming to throw flowers at them and offer prayers."
"Are you safe?"
"I am all right for now. Don't know about the future."
"What about the protests?"
"No. Now there is no protest going on in the village anymore. Everything is quiet."
And the line went dead.