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Tibetan protest debut

Beijing, March 8: A Tibetan activist challenged Chinese authorities yesterday by unfurling a provocative banner opposite the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square, where China’s parliament is currently in session.

The activist, Wangpo Tethong, 43, held open his banner for just a few seconds before melting into the crowd.

The banner was addressed to China President Hu Jintao directly, saying: “Hu, you can’t stop us! 2008-Freetibet.org”.

“This is the first time there will be a Tibetan protest at Tiananmen Square”, Tethong said in an interview the day before he carried out his act. “It’s meant to show the Chinese government that they can’t just keep ignoring the issue of Tibet or that sooner or later it will arrive in the heart of China.”

Also meaningful, Tethong said, was the date on his banner, as well as the exact spot he chose to unfurl it ' just besides the electronic “Olympic’ clock that is counting down the days to the 2008 Summer Olympics that Beijing will host.

China has been gearing up to put on a spectacular Olympics and use the occasion to announce its arrival on the global stage as a developed country. But Tethong said he and other Tibetan activists are planning to use the fact that “the world’s eyes will be focused on China” to draw attention to their own cause.

Though there were plenty of Chinese policemen at the square when Tethong opened his banner, they seemed perplexed by his act and hesitated before taking any action. This allowed Tethong, a Swiss citizen, to leave the square unharmed and bike to the Swiss embassy.

There diplomats gave him an informal escort to the airport from where he flew to Hong Kong, he said in a telephone interview from the island territory.

Tethong was lucky, for Chinese authorities do not take kindly to protests, even the momentary display of banners, at Tiananmen Square where hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators where killed by army troops in 1989.

On June 4, 1992, when Wang Wanxing, a political activist, tried to commemorate the third anniversary of the 1989 massacre by displaying a banner at Tiananmen Square, he was arrested and sent to a psychiatric hospital for 13 years where he was forced to undergo shock therapy and put on psychotropic drugs.

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