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Tibetan Exiles to Reassess Middle Way Towards China

Tibet's parliament in exile will hold an emergency meeting in mid-November. They are to agree on a resolution on the future of the Tibetan movement in wake of the political unrest in their homeland this year. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman traveled to Dharamsala in northern India, the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibet's government in exile. He reports on what Tibetans there are contemplating about the upcoming extraordinary legislative conference.

Nestled below a snow-capped Himalayan range in northern India, Tibetan monks in exile recite sacred Buddhist scriptures.

These days many of the monks are also contemplating the fate of Tibet.

The country's parliament in exile has approved the Dalai Lama's request for an emergency session in November to debate the future course. The call follows the uprising that began in March in Tibet, which was repressed by the Chinese authorities.

At issue for the 130,000 members of the exile community is whether to continue with their spiritual leader's "middle way" approach towards China - neither accepting Tibet's present status under Beijing nor seeking independence from Chinese rule. But the reported deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Tibetan monks and lay people this year following clashes with Chinese forces has led some to question the middle path.

Samdhong Rinpoche, the Kalon Tripa or prime minister of Tibet's government in exile, tells VOA News this year's events have created a seismic shift.

"Since March 2008 there have been a lot of protests and, then, international sympathy. A great change has been taking place during these days. And we shall have to review the situation and how we shall have to channelize our future course of action,"he said.

Input will come not only from Tibet's legislative representatives elected in exile, but from Tibetan intellectuals and non-governmental organizations in the exile community. Most Tibetans in exile live in India.

The Kalon Tripa or prime minister has long been known to favor peaceful resistance - advocating that Tibetans should assert their rights under Chinese law to stymie Beijing by using the satyagraha tactic the Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi used against British colonial rule.

Some younger and more radical Tibetans have also expressed frustration with the status quo. The Tibetan Youth Congress, for example, advocates complete independence for Tibet.

The organization's president, Tsewang Ringzin, tells VOA News the November extraordinary meeting will give Tibetan youth an opportunity to make their voices heard by their elders.

"People need to realize the magnitude of this special meeting. And as long as people do that and as long as whoever attends the meeting, if they come to represent the true aspirations of the Tibetan people, I think we will have results," said Tsewang Ringzin.

The result may be the status quo if the monks of the Namgyal Monastery here are an accurate indicator of public opinion.

Gyeshi Lobsang Dakpa, a teacher at the Dalai Lama's personal monastery, echoes what several other monks said when queried about the meeting by VOA News.

The monk teacher, who was imprisoned by the Chinese during the 1988 uprising, believes the middle way approach should continue as there is no other practical alternative at present.

Later in the conversation, he expresses hope that one day perhaps China will not be as powerful or inflexible and his six million Tibetan compatriots again may be able to enjoy full religious and cultural freedom.

One alternative that gets no public support among the monks and lay people in Dharamsala is that of violent struggle against China.

Ringzin, the head of the Tibetan Youth Congress, which China classifies as a terrorist organization, agrees armed resistance is unacceptable.

"There is no question about it. The little support that we have internationally is due to the fact that our struggle is a non-violent struggle. Regardless of how you look at it, violence is not an option for our struggle," he said.

The Buddhist monks interviewed here agree, saying they cannot advocate something that is counter to the language of compassion and loving kindness they recite daily in their sutras.