Amid crackdown, exiles raise 'Tibetan Olympic' torch

Tibetan exiles in Japan hoisted an alternative Olympic torch on Sunday in a bid to ramp up pressure on China over its crackdown on their homeland before the world's athletes head to Beijing in August.

Some 100 exiles and their supporters ran through central Tokyo's Yoyogi park relaying the "Tibetan Olympics" torch and waving flags while shouting "Free Tibet" and "China, get out of Tibet."

"We are questioning China," said Rinchen, a Tibetan exile in Japan who uses one name. "There are such violations of human rights in China. But will they still hold the Olympics? It's an event for peace."

The torch relay is part of the "Tibetan Olympics" that refugees from the Chinese-ruled territory plan to hold in May in the Indian mountain town of Dharamshala, the home in exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Organisers said in a statement that they hoped to "highlight the paradox of the 2008 Beijing Olympics - the world's most respectful and peaceful sporting event in one of the most repressive and brutal countries."

The Tibetan torch has already travelled to Australia and Taiwan and will head next to Hawaii. It will cross the Americas, Europe and Africa before returning to Dharamshala.

The torch relay came days after the biggest protests in nearly two decades erupted in Tibet, where many residents resent what they see as Chinese attempts to destroy their Buddhist culture.

China's state-run press said the riots left 10 people dead while Tibet's government-in-exile in Dharamshala said about 80 people had been confirmed killed and it had received unconfirmed reports of as many as 100 fatalities.

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse

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