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Tibetan exiles tackle future China policy

November 24, 2008

November 22, 2008

DHARAMSHALA, India (AFP) -- Tibetan exiles struggled Saturday to come
up with a unified strattegy to fight Chinese rule of their homeland
at the end of a meeting to determine the movement's future.

The Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, had summoned nearly 600
leading exiles after he admitted that his "middle way" policy of
trying to negotiate autonomy from China appeared to have failed.

The week-long discussions at the exiles' base in Dharamshala in
northern India sought to offer new guidance to the Dalai Lama, but --
49 years after he fled Tibet -- they also highlighted the exiles' divisions.

Many delegates called for the "middle way" approach to be replaced by
an unequivocal demand for independence.

But others aired equally strong opinions against dropping the policy,
saying the shift would lose Tibetans international support and
further antagonise China.

"Tibetans are ready for change," said Lhadon Thethorg, a delegate and
New York president of Students for a Free Tibet, which lobbies for a
pro-independence stance.

"While endorsing His Holiness the Dalai Lama's leadership, people are
keen to take responsibility, starting a new phase in the Tibetan movement.

"Whether for the 'middle way' or independence for Tibet, people are
calling for more vigorous action."

Thethorg said the meeting had heard many voices calling for
independence, but she accepted her hopes of a significant policy
change had been dashed.

"We are in a democratic system, but the opinion of the majority may
not be the right one," she said.

Participants had divided into 15 committees, each of which presented
a report late Friday, and a final consensus was due to be decided
later Saturday.

China on Friday moved to pre-empt the meeting's conclusions, accusing
the Dalai Lama of covertly campaigning for independence.

In a commentary published by the official Xinhua news agency, the
Dalai Lama's insistence that he is only seeking autonomy for Tibet
was again flatly rejected.

"When conditions are ripe, they will seek to realise 'complete Tibet
independence'," it said.

Among those at the talks backing a pro-independence policy was Tendon
Dahortsang, 28, European president of the Tibetan Youth Association.

"It's clear that dialogue is not working," she said. "This meeting is
a first important step for change. We can't wait for China to change.
We have to push for it."

However the discussions in the hill town of Dharamshala also saw
widespread support for sticking to the "middle way," with many
Tibetans reluctant to challenge the Dalai Lama -- despite his own
apparent wishes.

"His policy is practical," Jamyang Jinpa, a 29-year-old monk
attending the meeting, told AFP. "It is one that can move with the times."

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising
against Chinese rule, asked his followers for fresh guidance after
expressing frustration that his "middle way" policy had made no headway.

"I have to accept failure," he said on a recent visit to Japan.
"Suppression (in Tibet) is increasing and I cannot pretend that
everything is OK."

In March, protests against Chinese rule in the capital, Lhasa,
erupted into violence which spread to other areas of western China
with Tibetan populations.

Tibet's government-in-exile, which is based in Dharamshala, said more
than 200 Tibetans were killed in a subsequent Chinese crackdown.

Ahead of the week of debates, 17,000 Tibetans still living in China
were consulted, said the speaker of the government in exile.

The meeting has no policy-making power -- any recommendations would
need the approval of the exiled Tibetan parliament -- but lawmakers
have vowed to follow its lead.
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