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India's Soccer Captain Pulls Out of Olympic Torch Relay


India's soccer captain has refused to carry the Olympic torch during its passage through India to protest the recent Chinese crackdown on anti-government protests by Buddhist monks in Tibet. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, Tibetan activists have welcomed the decision.

The Indian soccer captain, Bhaichung Bhutia, says he is pulling out of the Olympic torch relay to show solidarity with the Tibetan people in what he called "my own small way."

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Torch is scheduled to pass through the Indian capital on April 17.

Bhutia says he sympathizes with the Tibetan cause and abhors violence. He was one of several prominent Indian sportsmen invited by the Indian Olympic Association to carry the flame.

His protest follows China's crackdown last month on anti-government demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in Lhasa.

Bhutia is a Buddhist from India's northeastern state of Sikkim, a Himalayan region that borders Tibet. People in both areas share centuries old religious and cultural ties.

President of the New Delhi-based Tibetan Youth Congress, Tsewang Rigzin, welcomed the Indian soccer captain's decision.

"It sends out a strong signal to the rest of the world that when it comes to principle[s], people should abide by their principles, and that they should stand up for what they truly believe in," he said.

Bhutia is the second person to refuse to take part in the Olympic torch relay. Last month, a Thai environmentalist, Narisa Chakrabongse, also withdrew from the relay to protest human-rights violations in Tibet.

Tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles based in India have held dozens of protest rallies in recent weeks.

These demonstrations have prompted Chinese officials to express concern about the safe passage of the Olympic torch in its journey through India. New Delhi has assured China it will ensure adequate security for the flame.

The Olympic torch relay began Monday in Beijing and will pass through 19 countries before returning to China.

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