Page last updated at 14:18 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 15:18 UK

Big security for small Tibet protest

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Delhi

Tenzin Paldan (right) and Tenzin Tsering
The demonstrators were mostly Tibetan refugees
In a quiet corner of central Delhi, several hundred protesters chanted anti-Chinese slogans while others applauded enthusiastically as they watched the performance of a Tibetan dance.

By Indian standards it was a relatively quiet demonstration that would not normally have attracted the presence of a police riot squad lorry parked nearby.

Yet such are the sensitivities of the Indian authorities over the Tibet question, it was treated as no ordinary protest.

The demonstrators were encircled by a ring of police who nearly out-numbered them. The only other time of the year that such measures are used is during India's Republic Day celebrations.

Middle class

At no point did police allow the protesters to get anywhere near the official torch carrying ceremony.

Naresh Kapoor
Kashmir has never been an independent country in its own right whereas Tibet has
Bookshop owner Naresh

Anyone trying to cross a barricade that was protecting it was told to make an about-turn in no uncertain terms.

Most taking part in the protest were the relatives of Tibetans who fled their homeland about the same time as the Dalai Lama in 1959.

Many were middle class professionals such as 30-year-old Tenzin Paldan and her sister Tenzin Tsering.

They were for the most part very different from their more vociferous counterparts who protested against the Olympic torch when it first arrived in India on Wednesday night.

"We are here because we support independence for Tibet and do not approve of China staging the Olympics," said Ms Paldan, who is a nurse.

"Our grievance is not with India - after all they have provided us with a sanctuary from Chinese repression."

Traffic jams

It was only when asked how far the protesters should go to highlight their grievances that these seemingly peace-loving sisters struck a more belligerent tone.

Soldiers at the protest
There was almost as much security as there were protesters

"We support any efforts - including the use of violence - to disrupt the torch carrying ceremony. The Chinese are using the Olympics as a propaganda tool while persecuting our people and they should not be allowed to get away with," said Ms Tsering.

Other demonstrators, such as 32-year-old Tamdin Tsering, said they were not against China hosting the Olympics but are in favour of Tibet immediately being given more autonomy.

"That should be a precursor to our full scale independence," he said.

While the demonstrators noisily banged their drums and distributed their leaflets, it seemed that the rest of Delhi looked upon their protest with a collective shrug of the shoulders.

The only way many will have noticed that the torch carrying ceremony was taking place at all was because the middle of the city was effectively closed down, creating huge traffic jams in areas adjoining the centre.

Bookshop owner Naresh said that many people sympathised with the plight of India's 100,000 or so Tibetan refugee population and would like to see the region gain independence.

"I think at times our government has been too subservient to China, and we should be more assertive in telling them what we think about the Tibet question, which is a decades-old wrong that needs to be rectified," he said.

Tamdin Tsering
Many argued that the Olympics should not go ahead

When asked if he also feels sympathetic towards those Kashmiris who would rather their territory was not under Indian control, Mr Kapoor argued that such comparisons cannot legitimately be made.

"Kashmir has never been an independent country in its own right whereas Tibet has - and that is the essential difference," he said.

But Shakeel Donoo, a Muslim Kashmiri tour guide working in Delhi, said that many Indians who support the Tibet cause were hypocritical.

"There is no difference between the two struggles," he argued. "At the heart of each is an oppressed people denied their legitimate rights by a far larger neighbour.

"India should perhaps remember that if Tibet does get independence, that will have implications because the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh should be part of Tibet as well."

Many in Delhi chose not to go to work because of the disruption caused by the torch carrying ceremony.

But if they thought such a tactic might enable them to escape the controversy it caused, they would have been sorely mistaken.

The ceremony itself - and the protests running alongside it - were given saturation wall-to-wall coverage by at least 40 English and vernacular satellite television channels.

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