Almost a month after protests to commemorate the 1959 invasion of Tibet by China turned violent in Lhasa, we are seeing no resolution to either the tension within the territory, nor to the growing complexity of international politics surrounding China, Tibet and the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Activists and supporters of many causes, including Darfur, Falun Gong, the environment and general human rights, had so far struggled to broadly link the Beijing Olympics with China's generally dismal record of not respecting individual civil liberties, while supporting regimes that indulged in the genocide of their own populations. Darfur was perhaps the strongest rallying point for activists worldwide, in no small way due to the tireless efforts of celebrity campaigners including, among others, Mia Farrow. China has been able to avoid significant censure from governments on the strength of its economy.
But Tibet is proving to be a thornier issue to resolve. Perhaps as a result of, or directly due to, the stature of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, China has struggled to both brutally prevent protests in Tibet and to present a less than completely negative image in the international press. A carefully choreographed visit by foreign journalists to the Jokhang temple complex in Lhasa backfired badly when resident Tibetan monks, at no small risk to personal safety, chose to break through and directly address the journalists in an attempt to present their side of the story.
And the protests continued today in London, as the Olympic Torch completed its 31 mile tour of the city. Protestors lined the streets along the circuit, starting from Wembley Stadium, through West London, across the heart into the East. News reports suggest that over 35 protestors were arrested.
I went to the protest at Queensway station, just down the road from Notting Hill and the more exciting events of the morning, where protestors attempted to put out the torch with a fire extinguisher at Holland Park. Queensway was a surprisingly bourgeois scene, where pacific middle-aged professionals lined the streets, huddled under umbrellas while waving Tibetan flags. Some more dedicated protestors had loudspeakers and led the slogans, while a handful of Metropolitan policemen (approximately 10) were designated to control a crowd of well over 100.
A few memorable moments:
1) A Dominican friar, out in full regalia, including hood and cassock, distributing Free Tibet lapel pins
2) A family with a baby waving small Free Tibet flags
3) A woman with two dogs, both of whom followed the sloganeering with great interest
4) A police photographer openly videotaping all protesters...
I will write a further post about what I believe needs to be done as the Torch wends its way across the globe, most notably in India, but for now, I leave you with some photographs from the demonstration this morning...