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China Detains Free-Tibet Activists in Beijing - 2004-08-30

Foreign activists pushing for greater autonomy for Tibet have staged a demonstration in Beijing. Police moved in swiftly to detain two of the demonstrators after they unfurled a banner calling for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to protest China's human-rights record in Tibet.

The pro-Tibet activists came to China this week to announce their plans for a four-year campaign to get Beijing to improve its human-rights record before it hosts the next Olympic Games in 2008.

The International Tibet Support Network unveiled this initiative at an unusual news conference with foreign journalists in Beijing. Members of the group then went to a Beijing theme park showcasing Tibetan and other Chinese ethnic minority cultures. At the park, the activists unfurled a banner that read: "No Olympics for China Until Tibet is Free."

That is when Chinese police stepped in and detained some of the protesters.

One of those detained is an American activist who in recent years took the Buddhist name Han-Shan. Just before his detention, he vowed to coordinate protests in China during the next four years.

"The run-up to the Olympic games, where the Chinese government is the custodian of the Olympic ideals, will present the best opportunity that the Chinese government has to foster democracy," he said, "to improve its record on human rights, and to meaningfully engage with representatives of the Dalai Lama to find a resolution to the Tibetan plight."

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials following the detention of the foreigners.

The activists are calling for greater autonomy for Tibet, the Himalayan kingdom that was overrun by Chinese communist troops in 1950 and annexed. Tibet's highest spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, went into exile in neighboring India in 1959, and has not been allowed to return.

The Dalai Lama and his followers have accused the Chinese government of committing what they call "cultural genocide," by allowing thousands of Chinese migrants to settle in the region. Many Tibetans fear they may eventually become a minority in their own land. Activists say the government has imprisoned thousands of Tibetan dissidents.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama - a 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner - met with Chinese government officials in 2002, but no agreement was reached for the spiritual leader to return.

Talks have not resumed since, and China has continued to accuse the Dalai Lama of fomenting what it calls 'splittist' sentiments in Tibet. Beijing says it has invested heavily to raise living standards in what officials refer to as "China's most backward province."