Tibet protests spread worldwide as Beijing Games near

March 19, 2008; by Claire Cozens; AFP 

HONG KONG (AFP) – Worldwide protests over China‘s crackdown in Tibet are spreading, putting pressure on Beijing‘s Communist leaders just months ahead of their showpiece Olympic Games in August.

Tibet’s exiled leaders say about 100 people have been killed in a crackdown on anti-Chinese protests and have called for an international investigation. China has denied wrongdoing and blamed Tibetans for the unrest.

Growing numbers of people are taking to the streets worldwide to protest against the crackdown, and rights groups have urged foreign governments to respond by keeping their officials away from the Beijing Olympics.

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said Tuesday political leaders would reconsider attending the opening ceremony if the “repression” continued.

“It will cause political leaders who plan to attend the opening of the Olympic Games, as I plan to, to consider whether such a trip is a responsible move,” he said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested the European Union may consider a boycott of the opening ceremony and in Rome, the Italian government called on the European Union to send a mission to Beijing immediately to discuss the crisis.

But China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, said there was little support for an EU boycott of the August 8 ceremony.

“What he (Kouchner) said is not shared by most people in the world,” the Chinese envoy said.

Chinese authorities have responded to the unrest with a virtually total lockdown of Tibet and other areas of China with large Tibetan populations.

Activist groups said Wednesday hundreds of people have been arrested across Tibet following the deadly riots in the region.

Further protests against Beijing’s handling of the crisis were planned Wednesday, including one outside the Chinese embassy in Bangkok, after a series of demonstrations were held worldwide on Tuesday.

Hundreds of demonstrators, many holding banners and Tibetan flags, gathered at the seat of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the Swiss city of Lausanne for a procession led by monks in traditional robes.

Belgian police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of Tibetan protesters who hurled projectiles at the Chinese mission to the European Union and in London, two protesters hung a sign that read “Stop killing Tibetans” around the necks of the terracotta warriors on loan from China to the British Museum.

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Australia burned Chinese flags and chanted “Free Tibet” as they protested outside Beijing’s consulate in Sydney.

Also Tuesday, White House hopeful Senator John McCain called on China to allow international access to Tibet and open talks with the Himalayan territory’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

He said reports of Beijing shutting down the popular video website YouTube and confiscating mobile phone SIM cards were “disturbing,” adding, “reports of multiple deaths are far more so, especially in a year when China is preparing to host the Olympic Games.”

China refuses to hold negotiations with the Dalai Lama, who said Tuesday he would resign as Tibet’s spiritual leader if the unrest in his homeland worsened.

Pro-Tibet activists said Wednesday they have been bombarded with abusive phone calls and virus emails as they try to contact witnesses in Tibet and nearby amid a clampdown following anti-Chinese riots.

Matt Whitticase, from the Free Tibet Campaign, said he had received calls every two minutes from 4:00 am to 7:00 am Tuesday in London to his mobile number and also at his work number.

“The content was crude, abusive and highly anti-Tibetan in nature. The calls also contained the sort of patriotic Chinese music you used to hear on Chinese trains and in public places.

“It seemed that the intention was to stop me from working and from making calls,” he said.

Lhadon Tethong, director of Students for a Free Tibet, told AFP that their New York office had also received abusive calls from people speaking Chinese, and added that they had received viruses via email.

“We are getting virus attacks that are just shameless… claiming to be desperate people inside Tibet. The emails are well-written and emotional pleading for us to open the images,” she told AFP.

One other group, which did not want to be identified, told AFP its computers had been compromised by virus attacks over the last few days.

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