DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama is set to mark his 50 years in exile on Tuesday by demanding “meaningful autonomy” for his Tibetan homeland and saying that Chinese rule there has at times been “hell on earth.”
About 10,000 Tibetans from around the world have traveled to hear their leader speak from the courtyard of the main Buddhist temple in Dharamsala, the north Indian hill town where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based.
Tibet is under a security clampdown aimed at stifling protest against Chinese rule. Armed police do not expect unrest but are ready to “deal with any situation,” a police commissar said on the eve of the speech.
It is surrounded by muted speculation about the Dalai Lama’s longevity and the future of his cause after recent stays in hospital.
“From time immemorial, the Tibetan and Chinese peoples have been neighbors,” the Dalai Lama will say, according to a draft of his speech, shown to Reuters. “We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy.”
Tenzin Taklha, a close aide of the 73-year-old Buddhist monk, told Reuters he would be “looking back at what we have achieved...and will chalk out a path for the future.”
The Dalai Lama is also set to mourn what he calls the suffering and destruction wrought by Chinese Communist policies and campaigns, according to the draft.
“These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth,” it says, recalling past decades. “Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear.”
Yet while decrying China’s crackdown on unrest 12 months ago and a lack of progress in talks between his envoys and Beijing, the Dalai Lama will also say the two sides must together find a way forward.
On Monday Chinese President Hu Jintao warned that his government would not relax its control of the mountain region that Mao Zedong’s Communist forces took in 1950.
“Ensure national security and Tibet’s social stability,” Hu told Tibetan delegates to the national parliament in Beijing. “We must build a sturdy Great Wall against separatism and to protect the unity of the motherland, advancing Tibet from basic stability to ensuring lasting order and tranquility.”
Beijing says that the Dalai Lama’s calls for Tibetan high-level autonomy are tantamount to a demand for independence.
But many exiled Tibetans would like to go further than the conciliatory approach of their spiritual leader. A meeting of exiles last November reaffirmed his “middle way” path, but many said their patience with Beijing may not last.
Messages of Tibetan resistance are inescapable in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s home since he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
In the narrow streets where monks often wander, “Free Tibet” posters, Tibetan flags and photographs of the Dalai Lama are everywhere. Even “Free Tibet” bobble hats are on sale.
The Dalai Lama’s message is sure to make its way quickly to his homeland, where he is widely revered despite years of official vilification. Beijing blames his “clique” for the unrest that erupted across the region last year — a claim he rejects.
China fears the Tuesday anniversary could bring fresh protests, and across Tibetan areas, police and security forces were on alert to swiftly stifle unrest.
On the high plateau of Qinghai province, near Tibet proper, riot police with signs banning firearms blocked roads in ethnic Tibetan areas, and turned back reporters trying to enter the monastery town of Tongren, known as Rebkong in Tibetan.
“Can’t you see, it’s so tense. What can I say about March 10? Look at all these soldiers and police here,” said a Tibetan farm woman named Manang.
Additional reporting by Abhishek Madhukar and Bappa Majumdar; Chris Buckley in BEIJING; and Royston Chan in TONGREN; Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee, editing by Mark Trevelyan