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Page last updated at 06:27 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 07:27 UK

India footballer in Tibet protest

Baichung Bhutia
Bhutia said his decision to withdraw was a personal one

India's football captain Baichung Bhutia has refused to carry the Olympic torch during its journey through the Indian capital Delhi later this month.

He told the authorities the move was in protest against China's crackdown on Tibetan demonstrators, officials said.

India has not allowed large-scale Tibetan protests against China, which is hosting the Olympics this year.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has lived in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959.

India is also home to more than 150,000 Tibetan exiles.

Tibet's government-in-exile, based in India, says up to 140 people were killed in a crackdown by Chinese security forces since anti-China riots began two weeks ago.

Beijing disputes this, saying rioters killed 18 civilians and two police officers during the protests.

Sympathy

"I sympathise with the Tibetan cause. This is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle. I abhor violence in any form," Bhutia told the Times of India newspaper.

Bhutia is a Buddhist who comes from the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim which has long been claimed by China as its own territory.

The footballer told the newspaper he had not been requested by any group to pull out of the torch run.

"This is an absolutely personal decision. I feel what is happening in Tibet is not right and in my small way I should show my solidarity," he said.

The Indian Olympic Association, which is organising the flame's journey through Delhi on 17 April, has invited several top athletes to participate.

India-China relations

On Sunday, China's State Councillor Dai Bingguo called upon Indian National Security Adviser MK Narayanan to "understand and support" China's policy towards Tibet.

Beijing said Mr Narayanan had reiterated that the government in Delhi viewed Tibet as part of China.

India has in the past been sympathetic to the Tibetan cause but in recent years Delhi's relations with Beijing have improved.

India has not allowed large-scale public protests over the recent unrest in Tibet.

Earlier this month, more than 100 Tibetan refugees were detained in India while attempting to march to the Chinese border.


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