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China migration, not rail link, worries Tibetans

Beijing, June 30: An American Tibetan activist protested China’s imminent inauguration of a new railway line into Tibet by clambering atop the fa'ade of Beijing’s central railway station and unfurling a banner that read “China’s Tibet Railway: Designed to Destroy”.

The woman, Kathy Ni Keefe, a 36-year-old from the US, was accompanied by fellow activists, Katie Mallin, 34, a Briton, and Omi Hodwitz, a 29-year-old Canadian.

The women were arrested within minutes by security officers, who brought down the banner and bundled the activists out of sight of the curious travellers below.

The protest came just after dozens of Tibetan exiles living in India scaled the fence of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, and set fire to Chinese flags, before being arrested by local police.

Kate Woznow, a spokesperson for the Beijing protesters, who are members of a Hong Kong-based group called the Free Tibet Campaign, said the protests aimed “to send a message globally that Tibetans are opposed to the launch of the new Chinese-Tibetan railway”. “The protesters were all foreigners because it is very risky for Tibetans to speak out in China and in Tibet,” she said. Chinese authorities say the $3.5-billion line will directly connect Tibet’s capital Lhasa with Beijing, 4,064 km east, for the first time and help promote economic growth in Tibe one of the poorest regions in Asia.

But Tibetan exiles say China, which invaded and occupied Tibet in 1959, will use the railroad to consolidat e its grip over the area and flood it with Chinese migrants.

“The railway line itself is not a cause of concern for the Tibetan people, it’s how it will be used that is the main concern for us,” Nawang Rapgyal, a spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile in India said. “If it is used for political use ' that is, the transfer of Chinese from China to Tibet, then it would be against the Tibetan people’s wish and we will be protesting that.”

Beijing has long tried to subdue the Tibetans’ sense of identity in a bid to integrate the Buddhist Himalayan country more closely into China.

During the 1960s and 1970s, more than a million Tibetans died from Chinese policies, which also led to the destruction of more than 6,000 Buddhist monasteries, the arrest and torture of Tibetan monks, the denuding of Tibetan forests, and the stationing of nuclear weapons and waste dumps in Tibet.

Yet most Tibetans agree that Beijing’s migration policy is the most potent threat to their existence.

Samdhong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, estimates that Tibet now has 2.3 million Tibetans, but 7 million Chinese ' more than a hundred times the number officially claimed by China.

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