Protesters: Stop Olympic torch relay through Tibet

Tibetan community in Switzerland and Liechtenstein say IOC should take a stand against China.

Olympic torch  (photo credit: )
Olympic torch
(photo credit: )
Some 600 people protested Tuesday against China's crackdown in Tibet, demanding the International Olympic Committee intervene with the host country of the 2008 Summer Games and call off the torch relay through Tibet. The demonstrators, primarily members of the Tibetan community in Switzerland who had marched through the streets of Lausanne, chanted prayers and waved Tibetan flags and banners outside the Olympic committee headquarters. "Stop killing in Tibet," a banner read. "Mister Rogge, your silence kills Tibetans," said another, referring to the sports body's president, Jacques Rogge. The IOC should take a stand against China, said Jigme Drongshar, the spokesman for the Tibetan community in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. "We want a clear statement," he told The Associated Press. "We demand from the IOC that they should not close their eyes today and should act now." The IOC issued a statement saying it respected the right of the protesters to demonstrate but that it intended to go ahead with the relay of the Olympic Torch through Tibet. It is scheduled to go to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in June. "We are of the firm belief that the Olympic Games are a catalyst which will leave Beijing and China a great legacy to manage and to sustain," the statement said. "The Olympic Torch is a powerful symbol which inspires people from all over the world to overcome their differences and come together in mutual understanding in anticipation of the Games which it heralds. It said it joined with others in calling for a peaceful resolution to the tensions in Tibet. A week of protests against Chinese rule in Tibet culminated in violence Friday when Tibetans attacked ethnic Chinese and torched their shops in Lhasa. China reacted with force, according to Dalai Lama's government in exile in India. Officials there said 16 people died in the violence, but exiled Tibetans said as many as 80 people may have been killed by Chinese authorities. The demonstrators handed a letter to the IOC signed by 150 Tibetan organizations from around the world, asking the sports body to take unspecified "active measures" to halt the killings in Tibet, he said. "The Chinese government is kicking out tourists and journalists," Drongshar said. "Obviously they want to hide something in Tibet." The violence in Tibet in recent days has focused attention on the Aug. 8-24 Olympics, and raised questions about the IOC's role - or lack of it - in influencing Chinese organizers. The Olympic committee's position, stated repeatedly by Rogge, is that the International Olympic Committee is a sports organization and is not in a position to pressure China or any other countries on political matters. Wangpo Tethong, who presides over the self-declared Tibetan National Olympic Committee, said, "It is not enough for Mister Rogge to say he is concerned. He must clearly denounce the killings and force China to stop it." "We are totally horrified and saddened by the killings and we don't understand why the IOC does not react forcefully to speak against the killings," he told the AP. He said the Tibetan committee planned to withdraw its request that it be allowed to field its own team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a demand the IOC has rejected. Tethong said the organizations were asking the IOC to cancel plans for the Beijing Games' torch relay to go through Tibet. The Tibetan committee says the torch relay through Tibet "is seen by Tibetans as a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to use the Olympics to stake their claim on Tibet and, given the current protests in Tibet against Chinese rule, can only be seen as a provocation." Four Tibetan athletes dressed in the national team's jacket walked along with the demonstrators as well as a few monks who had come from a Rikon, Zurich-based monastery.