NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the United Nations on Monday calling for an end to Chinese rule in Tibet, where dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire in recent weeks to protest China’s control of their homeland.
The “Solidarity Rally for Tibet” consisted of thousands of mostly Tibetan protesters who marched from Manhattan’s West Side to the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the U.N. headquarters by the East River.
The marchers repeated chants such as “We want justice, wake up U.N.”
Some carried posters with phrases like “UN: Tibetans need you” and others bearing photos and the names of those who have immolated themselves, such as Gonpo Tsering, who burned himself on November 10, and Kalsang Jinpa, who did the same on November 8.
New York Police officers at the demonstration did not have a precise estimate for the number of protesters, though one officer confirmed an unofficial Reuters estimate of several thousand.
The marchers carried a photo of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama, at the head of their procession, which took up the entire Dag Hammarskjold Plaza from 1st Avenue to 2nd Avenue.
Demonstrators handed out leaflets that said China has “unleashed repression and brutality in Tibet with greater intensity than in the past since 2008.” The leaflet also accused Beijing of “lies and distortion of facts.”
Ninety-two Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule since 2009, with at least 75 dying from their injuries. The number of self-immolation cases have increased this year, with 28 recorded in November alone.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that the Tibet issue had nothing to do with human rights, ethnicity or religion.
He repeated the official stance that Tibetans had enjoyed unprecedented advances and rights under Communist Party rule, blaming the Dalai Lama for inciting the self-immolations.
Hong was responding to comments from Maria Otero, United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who said in a statement last week that tensions in Tibetan areas, including self-immolations, had been exacerbated by tough Chinese policies and controls.
Hong described Otero’s remarks as ”disgusting.
Last month the U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay urged China to address deep-rooted frustrations that have led to desperate forms of protest by Tibetans, including self-immolations.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Eric Walsh