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Tibetans could push for independence -- PM in exile

November 19, 2008

By Abhishek Madhukar
November 18, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Tibetans could push for
independence from China if exile groups meeting this week in India
decide that is their only option, the prime minister of the Tibetan
government-in-exile said on Tuesday.

Frustrated at the lack of progress in official talks with Beijing,
hundreds of Tibetans are meeting in the northern Indian town of
Dharamsala, the exiled Tibetans' headquarters, searching for a way forward.

Some want the Dalai Lama's long-standing "Middle Way", which
advocates greater autonomy within China, replaced by demands for
outright independence.

"If the majority of the people offer some different way than the
present (Middle Way), then of course we would gladly follow that,"
Samdhong Rinpoche, the Tibetan exile prime minister, told reporters.

"If the parliament by majority makes the decision that we should go
for independence, then of course there is no way to escape that,"
Rinpoche said.

"The parliament has the final decision-making power."

Analysts say the meeting may be an attempt to persuade the Chinese
that if they don't compromise, more radical elements will surface
against China's rule.

The exiles gathered in Dharamsala were hopeful of reaching a
consensus and were huddled in closed door meetings.

"Everybody (has a) kind of mixed feeling -- frustration, hope,
determination to do something but not very clear what to do," Rinpoche added.

China this month rejected demands for autonomy during talks between
Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama's envoys.

The Tibetan leader, who fled into exile in 1959 after an unsuccessful
uprising, recently hinted his push for an autonomous Tibet had
failed. Speculation has grown he wants to step back from day-to-day
political leadership.


After being hospitalised with abdominal pain in August and undergoing
gallstone surgery last month, he is not attending the Dharamsala meeting.

Some Tibetan activists say he is laying the ground for a possible successor.

At the latest talks in Beijing, the Tibetans presented a "memorandum
on genuine autonomy", which stressed their right to create their own
regional government and to be represented in decision-making in the
Chinese government.

It also called for protecting the culture and identity of minority
nationalities in Tibet, and preserving the environment.

Chinese officials have said the door to Tibetan independence or
semi-independence would never open, and China's foreign ministry said
on Tuesday attempts to split Tibet from Chinese territory would not succeed.

"No country in the world recognises an independent Tibet," Qin Gang,
a foreign ministry spokesman, told a news conference in Beijing.

China has already stepped up security inside Tibet.

A Tibetan source, who asked not to be identified for fear of
retribution, said security had been noticeably boosted in Tibet's
capital, Lhasa.

Tibetans without Lhasa residence permits, including pilgrims and
business people, are being forced out of the city, the source said.

"This is a big sweep out," the source added.

Police and armed soldiers patrol the streets, and there are few
tourists, the source said. Government agencies are also being asked
to have people on duty 24 hours a day.

"It was more relaxed after the Olympics," the source said.
(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing and Tenzin Pema
in Dharamsala; Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Mark Williams
and Jerry Norton)
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