Tibetan Exiles Push Ahead With Olympics Protest March, Defying Indian Ban

Hundreds of Tibetan exiles pressed ahead Tuesday with a march from northern India to their Himalayan homeland, defying a police ban on the demonstration against Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympics.

The march, which started Monday, was expected to take six months, reaching Tibet during the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games in a bid to turn the Olympic spotlight onto China's often harsh 57-year rule over the Himalayan region.

It was one of several events launched around the world Monday by Tibetans commemorating their 1959 uprising against China. About 300 Buddhist monks also protested in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, one of the boldest public challenges to China's rule in recent years.

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India, apparently fearful that the march could embarrass Beijing and jeopardize warming ties between the Asian giants, banned the exiles from leaving the Kangra district that surrounds Dharmsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Local police chief Atul Fulzele said Monday the ban was made following a recommendation by the Indian government.

On Tuesday, the marchers vowed to defy the order.

Walking single file, waving Tibetan flags and holding aloft pictures of the Dalai Lama and Indian pacifist icon Mohandas K. Gandhi, some 350 exiles followed the road down from the mountains toward the plains of northern India.

"Our spirits are high," said 32-year-old Tenzin Lhadon. "If police try and detain us, we will find a way to carry on," she said.

Dozens of supporters lined the road as the marchers passed, chanting "Free Tibet."

By nightok said authorities defused the incident without arrests.

"It's really nothing," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of National People's Congress, China's annual legislative session. "Everything is really great."

Asked about the march, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, "Some ignorant monks in Lhasa abetted by a small handful of people did some illegal things that can challenge the social stability."

He said monks were dealt with "according to the law," but gave no details.

Drepung was sealed off Tuesday and increased numbers of armed police guarded temples in and around Lhasa, according to Radio Free Asia and phayul.com.

In Dharmsala, some 500 Tibetans held a candlelit vigil late Tuesday to support the marchers and protest the alleged arrests in Lhasa.

Many Tibetans say their territory was independent when communist troops arrived in 1950 and the Dalai Lama has campaigned for autonomy to protect its culture. Beijing says Tibet has been part of China for centuries and accuses the Dalai Lama of agitating for independence.