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U.S. group protests Nepal arrest of Tibetan leaders

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali authorities arrested three Tibetan officials and charged them with anti-China activities, leading to protest from a pro-Tibet group based in Washington.

Police said Kelsang Chung, director of the Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre in Kathmandu, Ngawang Sangmo and Tashi Dolma, senior officials of the regional Tibetan Women’s Association, were taken in on Thursday on charges of “anti-China activities”.

Their arrests came amid street protests on Thursday, which saw hundreds of Tibetan exiles, including nuns and monks, shouting anti-China slogans and scuffling with police in Kathmandu before being hauled into waiting trucks and taken to detention centers.

Thousands of Tibetans have been detained and later freed in recent months in Nepal for protesting against the Chinese crackdown on demonstrations in Tibet in mid-March.

On Friday, burgundy-robed monks and nuns with shaven heads were among 2,000 Tibetan exiles who went on a silent march on the occasion of the World Refugee Day.

Hundreds of riot police kept a vigil along the 16 km (10 mile) route as the Tibetans walked from a refugee centre to Swyambhunath, a Buddhist monument on the outskirts of the Nepali capital.

Police officer Sarbendra Khana said on Friday the three Tibetan officials were detained under Nepal’s Public Security Act and could be held in custody for 90 days. Nepali authorities have not said what prompted their arrests.

Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) criticized the government for the arrests, and said the three Tibetans should be released immediately.

“These arrests are deeply disturbing at a time of transition to a new government in Nepal, when Tibetans already vulnerable in Nepal, are very nervous about Chinese government influence and presence in Kathmandu,” Mary Beth Markey, a vice-president of the Washington-based said in a statement.

“We call for the immediate release of these three prominent Tibetans,” the group said on Friday.

Impoverished Nepal considers Tibet part of China, a key aid donor, and does not allow anti-China protests by Tibetans who fled their homeland after a failed uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule in 1959. About 20,000 of them now live in Nepal.

Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sanjeev Miglani