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Tibetans likely to back "Middle Way", hope for best

DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - Tibetan exiles meeting in northern India have failed to find a viable alternative to the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” approach to China, and admit they can do little more than hope for a softening in Beijing’s stance.

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, speaks during a function in Dharamsala November 20, 2008. REUTERS/Abhishek Madhukar

In the meantime, they must redouble efforts to maintain their struggle, remain united and determined, and do what they can to preserve their ancient culture, leaders said.

“The only thing we can do now is wait for some signals from the Chinese government that there has been a rethinking and a reconsideration of their position on the issue of Tibet,” Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama’s special envoy to China told Reuters.

“If that signal arrives, then the Tibetans will discuss how to respond to it.”

Hundreds of Tibetans are meeting this week in Dharamsala, the headquarters of Tibet’s government-in-exile, to look for a way forward after eight rounds of official talks on autonomy with Beijing failed to make any progress.

They split into 15 groups of 40 each to brainstorm ideas, and came together on Friday to discuss their conclusions before presenting their ideas to the government-in-exile on Saturday.

There is an acknowledgement that the Middle Way, which abandoned the dream of an independent Tibet in favour of seeking greater autonomy within China through dialogue, has also failed.

Beijing again firmly rejected that idea in talks this month with the Dalai Lama’s envoys over the future of Tibet, which saw deadly riots and protests in March.

On Friday China’s official Xinhua news agency again accused the Dalai Lama of trying to achieve independence covertly and of promoting racial hatred.

Unhappy at the lack of progress, many younger Tibetans said they want to replace the “Middle Way” with a demand for outright independence.

“It is very frustrating to see people still sticking to the Middle Way,” said Tenzin Choeying, president of the Indian section Students for a Free Tibet, which says its represents 25,000 to 30,000 young people across the world.

“We will follow the path of a more forceful Middle Way.”

The speaker of the Tibetan government-in-exile’s parliament told Reuters this week the cabinet consulted thousands of Tibetans inside Tibet ahead of the meeting for their opinions on policy.

More than 5,000 of those asked called for a change to the “Middle Way” approach, 2,000 said it should continue as it is, while 8,000 said they would follow any future decision taken by the Dalai Lama, Karma Choephel said.

Some groups at the meeting want to give China two years to resolve the Tibetan issue or face more radical protests.

But an overwhelming majority said they wanted to stick to the non-violent path, and most said there was little alternative to the Dalai Lama’s approach.

“The Middle Way approach is the way to go, but everyone in our group agrees that Tibetans must be united and more forceful in their demands,” Youdon Aukatsang, a member of Tibet’s exiled parliament, said on Friday.

ROADMAP FOR FUTURE?

Analysts and many Tibetans think the 73-year-old Dalai Lama called the meeting partly to unite the Tibetan exile movement around a common approach and prepare the way for his gradual retirement, especially if his health starts to fail.

“This meeting is more about uniting the people for the future and we want to meet every two years,” Tenzin Tethong, a former minister in the exiled government said.

Others said the meeting would help to empower a political leadership to carry on the struggle.

“Eventually, the Dalai Lama will not lead the struggle, he will remain the spiritual head,” Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea, former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies said from New Delhi.

“But it does not mean they are going to defy him - there will be respect and they will not blatantly drop the Middle Way.”

For all their frustrations, many Tibetans have not given up their dreams of autonomy or even independence, hoping democracy will one day come to China and their voice will be heard.

“Everyday, there are about 30 uprisings all over China. The Chinese people are getting more and more tired of the economy and it is going to create social unrest,” said the Dalai Lama’s nephew, Khedroob Thondup, who lives in Taiwan.

Additional reporting by Abhishek Madhukar, Tenzin Pema and Ben Blanchard

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