Tibetans Defy Indian Police With Protest

Several hundred Tibetan exiles in India pressed ahead Wednesday with a march protesting Beijing's hosting of this summer's Olympic Games, in defiance of an Indian government ban.

The march was one of several events launched Monday as Tibetans around the world commemorated their 1959 uprising against China, including a protest by 300 Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, one of the boldest public challenges to China's rule in recent years.

The exiles plan a six-month march from India that could arrive in 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.

But India, fearing the march could embarrass Beijing and jeopardize the increasingly close ties between the countries, banned the exiles from leaving the Kangra district that surrounds Dharmsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Marchers vowed to defy the ban.

On Wednesday, police were stopping marchers and demanding to see their official identification certificates - an apparent attempt to disrupt the march - in Kangra district, organizers said.

"This is just another ploy to stop us," said Tenzing Cheying, a march organizer. "We will carry on."

In New Delhi, nearly 50 Tibetans protested outside the Chinese Embassy. They tried to get close to the mission, but were pushed back by police carrying batons, witnesses said.

Police loaded the protesters - who were carrying signs denouncing the Olympics - into vans and drove them away, witnesses said. Police were not immediately available for comment.

In northern India, some 350 exiles walked single-file, carrying Tibetan flags and pictures of the Dalai Lama and Indian pacifist Mohandas K. Gandhi.

The protesters set off Wednesday morning from the town of Ranital, about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the Kangra district border.

Tenzin Tsundue, one of the march leaders, said the protesters would likely reach the border by Wednesday and would try to evade the police.

"We are ready for any kind of obstruction," Tsundue said. "We will be very peaceful but when so many people are determined to give their lives up, no police can stop us."

Marchers said they had faith that police would not arrest them.

"The police will be ashamed to touch such peaceful marchers," said Miwang Nagyal, 63.

The exiles' defiance came as Beijing confirmed Tuesday about 300 Buddhist monks from the Drepung monastery outside Lhasa marched to the city to commemorate the failed uprising that forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India.

In a second, smaller demonstration, nine monks shouted slogans near a main temple.

The protests are believed to be the largest in the city since Beijing crushed a wave of pro-independence demonstrations in 1989.

Since then, China has pumped investment into the region, vilified the Dalai Lama and tried to weed out his supporters among the influential Buddhist clergy - moves that have alienated some Tibetans.

The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia and an overseas Tibetan Web site, phayul.com, reported as many as 71 people, mostly monks, were detained after the protests.

However, Tibet's chief administrator, Champa Phunstok, said authorities defused the incidents without arrests.

"It's really nothing," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the 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 the 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, about 500 Tibetans held a candlelit vigil late Tuesday to support the marchers and protest the reported arrests in Lhasa.

Beijing maintains that Tibet is historically part of China, but many Tibetans argue the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and accuse China of trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping it with Han people, the majority Chinese ethnic group.

---- Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.