Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Local Tibetan community rallies for homeland

Today is Losar, but Tibetans in exile will not be celebrating their traditional New Year and instead mark the day with prayer and fasting in subdued defiance against Chinese rule of their homeland.

Here, local Tibetans will be gathering at the Palpung Centre in Manurewa for a prayer session this morning to remember those who have died in the quest for freedom.

More than 20 Tibetans in China have set themselves ablaze in the past year to protest against what they claim to be religious and cultural repression by Beijing.

"Losar is meant to be a happy occasion for us, but celebrations have been cancelled at the request of the Tibetan government in exile," said community spokesman Thuten Kesang.

"Observations here will mainly be to remember those who died in Tibet...the situation back home is dire, but there is nothing we can do in exile other than pray."

Mr Kesang said there were just 45 Tibetans in exile living in New Zealand, mostly in Auckland, but had "thousands of supporters" who follow Tibetan Buddhism and are members of the Tibet- New Zealand Friendship Society.

There have been as many as 23 self- immolations in the past year, and the most recent was a young teenage Buddhist monk who set himself ablaze on Monday, according to rights groups.

Advocacy groups also said that up to seven Tibetans were shot dead and dozens injured during protests last month.

Mr Kesang said he had written repeatedly about the plight of the Tibetans to the New Zealand Government, but had received little sympathy and support.

"Unfortunately, the world is so blind by what they can get out of China, no one is taking much interest in what's happening to Tibet," Mr Kesang said.

Prime Minister John Key did not meet the Dalai Lama during his two recent visits here, despite saying he would do so before the 2008 elections.

Yesterday, Ethnic Affairs Minister Judith Collins also said she won't be attending today's Losar observation and that she had not received an invitation.

The Chinese Government has repeatedly accused exiled Tibetans and the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, of being behind the protests and had branded the immolators as "terrorists".

Kiwi singer Junelle Groves, 28, who follows Tibetan Buddhism and makes annual trips to see the Dalai Lama in India, says the situation is "terribly sad".

"It breaks my heart that such a beautiful culture, one I have benefited so much from, is being driven to such extremes," she said.

"I hope we honour the lives sacrificed...with an investigation into what is really happening in Tibet."

- NZ Herald

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