/ 26 March 2008

Tibet crackdown leaves 135 dead, says exiled leader

China’s crackdown on protests in Tibet has left at least 135 people dead, 1 000 injured and 400 arrested, the head of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile said in Brussels on Wednesday.

”Information from Tibet is very difficult to get, but we have sources who are very reliable, who phone us at the risk of their lives,” parliamentary speaker Karma Chophel told reporters at the European Parliament in Brussels.

”Confirmed killings, we put it as of yesterday [Tuesday] at 135,” he added. ”We believe the number of people dying, injured, arrested, could be 10 times more than the confirmed reports.”

Tibet’s government-in-exile has previously said that 140 people were killed in the unrest, while China has reported a total of 20 deaths, 19 of them in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

Protests against Beijing’s rule of Tibet began in Lhasa on March 10 — the anniversary of a 1959 uprising that saw Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama go into exile — prompting a crackdown by the Chinese authorities.

Tibetans are sacrificing their lives ”to voice their dissent against Chinese rule”, Chophel said.

”They are doing this at the cost of their lives, thinking that the European countries that have political power, economic power … will speak up,” he added.

He urged Europe to make sure its ”moral power is not compromised in order to have good trade relations with China”.

Chophel, who will address the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday, said: ”We are trying to awake the conscience of the world community to what is happening in Tibet — the situation is very urgent, it is a crisis situation.

”It is high time for people to speak up for the legitimate rights of the Tibetan people.”

Denouncing Chinese declarations blaming Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama for the protests, he urged that an independent international team be sent to Tibet to witness what is happening there.

However, like the Dalai Lama, he rejected the idea of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics Games this summer.

Chophel also referred to the situation in Kosovo, which recently declared independence from Serbia.

He said that ”as a Tibetan who has no freedom, no independence” there was ”a great sunshine of joy in my heart” at the news of Kosovo’s decision.

However, he added that, unlike Kosovo’s unilateral approach, Tibetans ”are trying to reach an agreement, if the Chinese are willing for a compromise”. — AFP