Tibetan exiles to kick off mock Olympics in India

Radical Tibetan exiles are to kick off their rival 'Olympics' in northern India on Thursday, less than three months ahead of the real event to be held in Beijing.

The event will feature just a handful of sports such as swimming, archery and shooting — but is causing embarrassment for unwilling host nation India and frustration for the more moderate exiled Tibetan administration led by the Dalai Lama.

Activists organising the games say they merely want to keep the Tibetan cause in the headlines.

"Our games are not meant to sabotage the Olympics, but we want to highlight that a world event is taking place just a stone's throw away from the ferocious oppression of our people," said Dolma Chondhup, a Tibetan rights activist.

Chinese-controlled Tibet was hit by unrest in March, and the Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured in a crackdown by Beijing.

China says Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people, and has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, of trying to sabotage the summer Games — a charge he fiercely denies.

Envoys from the two sides have since held a round of talks, with the Dalai Lama sticking by his cautious 'middle way' policy — a commitment to non-violence and a demand for autonomy within China rather than independence.

He is also at pains to assert he supports China as Olympic host, and has distanced himself from the protests that dogged the global torch relay.

The Tibetan government-in-exile is therefore ignoring the event — which was planned before the recent unrest — and the Dalai Lama, currently touring Europe, will be conspicuously absent.

"We are not aware who are the people organising this programme," the Dalai Lama's spokesman, Tenzin Takla, told AFP in Dharamshala.

India is also unhappy over the event, seeing it as an insult to its powerful northern neighbour, and worse still at a time when China struggles to provide aid to victims of last week's devastating earthquake.

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse (AFP)

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