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Tibetan Activists Protest at Racism Conference - 2001-08-31

Tibetan activists at the U.N. racism conference in South Africa held a protest outside Durban's Kingsmead Cricket stadium as dignitaries addressed the opening session. The protesters believe China's policy in Tibet is based on racial discrimination.

A peaceful protest by Tibetan activists outside Kingsmead Stadium in Durban as delegates and dignitaries assemble nearby for the official opening of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism.

Chanting about freedom and calling on China to release Tibetan political prisoners, the protesters claim that China's presence in Tibet is based on racist ideology. Jampal Chosang represents Tibet's exiled political leader (the Dalai Lama) in South Africa. He says China's administration of Tibet is racist. "Tibetan people are denied educational opportunities; Tibetan people are denied job opportunities; Tibetan people are denied health care opportunities; and Tibetan people are denied any decision making position in the government post in Tibet," he said. "So this is a true racism. A new form of racism going on on top of the world."

Some Chinese human rights activists agree with the Tibetan protesters. Xiao Qiang runs Human Rights in China, a U.S. and Hong Kong-based organization that monitors China's human rights record. His organization's participation at the conference was blocked by China, forcing Mr. Qiang to attend with a Tibetan organization. "We think the Chinese government must address the issue of racism within China, and that's the base of the repressive policy in Tibet," he said.

China annexed Tibet some 50 years ago and claims that the region is an integral part of the Chinese nation. Chinese officials claim that Tibet is being developed by the government and that the people's rights are protected. They stress that the international community has no right to interfere.

Wang Guang Ya heads the Chinese delegation to the racism conference. He told VOA News that the protester's statements about racism are politically motivated and do not reflect the views of the majority of people living in Tibet. However, activists say human rights abuses in Tibet continue to rise and have documented many cases of political detention and torture in addition to racial discrimination.

This is the first time Tibetan organizations have been officially allowed to participate in a U.N. Conference. But despite that success, many protesters feel their issues are being overshadowed while the whole world assembles in the conference center next door.

While heads of state hold their round table discussion Friday evening, the activists say they will continue their peaceful protests with a candlelight vigil.