Friday, August 8, 2008

Free Tibet Protest at Golden Gate Bridge

As celebrations of the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games took place in Beijing today, several hundred Tibetan people from around the Bay Area staged a peaceful protest at the Golden Gate Bridge.

They gathered at the bridge at midday and, led by Bhuddist monks, walked across it, circled the viewing area on the opposite end and then returned.

Some were draped in the bright Tibetan flag, some wore national costume, many wore sloganed yellow tunics...'One World, One Dream, Free Tibet'... or the black sweatshirts of Team Tibet.

Tenzin Tethong, one of the protest leaders, said there were only about 1,200 Tibetan people in the Bay Area, so to see about half of them there was a significant percentage for a small community.

'I really feel very strongly that everyone needs to come out and show their feelings for Tibet,' he said.

'The intensity of China's harshness and crackdown in Tibet is considerable. Thousands of people have been arrested recently in Tibet and about 200 killed, although the Chinese say officially about a dozen died.

It's always like this. They put out propaganda and unfortunately it works,' he said.

China, he added were accusing Tibetan people of causing the deaths of Chinese people in Tibet. 'Even if that's true, countered Tenzin as we walked across the bridge at the back of the line, 'that's tens of people. What about the thousands of Tibetans who are killed?!'

What he does take issue with is the way China are using the Games as a publicity tool.

'It's not being used primarily for sport,' he said, but to present an image of a 'stable, harmonious, peaceful society, which is really misinformation.'

What effect, I asked him, did he think the protests in the run up to the Games had had?

'I don't think any immediate effect,' he said candidly. 'The Chinese mindset says that if you want to be in control, you'd better be in control!'

Visitors to the bridge looked on happily as the protest walked by.

Catherine, Philippe and Bruno were from France.

'I think it is good,' said Catherine. But between the three of them, discussing the issue in French, they felt that it would not have any effect on 'the machine of China.'

'Tibet has no chance,' said Bruno. 'It has minerals and water. And China needs minerals and water!'

As the protests reached the far side of the bridge and more TV and press cameras were there to greet them the chants started up again.

'Olympics in China! Genocide in Tibet!'

'Olympics in China! Torture in Tibet!'

A crowd on a passing open-top tour bus turned their cameras on the procession.

One of the cheer leaders was 19-year-old student Tenzin of Team Tibet.

'I am a full-blood Tibetan but I've never been there,' she said. Her family links with Tibet go back to her great-grandparents.

'We want our country back. We want freedom,' she said.

Rob and Emma, in their twenties from England, watched from the viewing area.

I asked Rob what he thought of the protest.

'I agree completely,' he said. 'I think the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the UN should use their influence more strongly in order to try to pressure the government to soften its stance on human rights.

Unfortunately, economics talks!'

Emma agreed with him. About the athletes, she added, 'I don't think people should boycott it (the Games). They should have made a statement beforehand. But now that they're there, they should support it.

It's not fair. If you're an athlete you only have a certain peak period when you are at your optimum. You shouldn't have to sacrifice that to make a statement.'

The problems for Tibetan families living outside of the country are acute. Sitting on the grass back over the bridge at the end of the walk were one such group. They have not been in contact with family members for a few months, especially because China has made telephone links very difficult.

Wrapped in her Tibetan flag, Sonam said they are not even sure if their family members are still alive after the March 10 crackdown when many people were imprisoned and tortured.

For further interviews, including what happened at the Chinese Embassy protest when a protester fell, and more pics, see next blogs.

For album pics click here. Click on pics to enlarge

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