|Tibetan supporters protest peacefully against China's rule [AFP]|
Tibetan immigrants protesting Chinese control of their homeland vowed to make San Francisco, the only U.S. city to host the Olympic torch relay, the focal point of American demonstrations against the Beijing Games.
Demonstrators on Monday unfurled a Tibetan flag over the flight of white stone steps leading into San Francisco City Hall and held a portrait of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, above the crowd next to banners saying "Olympics in China, Torture in Tibet,'' and "Truth is our only weapon.''
The protesters, some wiping away tears while singing the Tibet national anthem, also called on Mayor Gavin Newsom to reject the April 9 torch run and urged city officials to pass a resolution calling on China to improve conditions for Tibetans in their homeland.
"San Francisco has always stood for freedom and human rights,'' said protester Yangchen Lhamo.
"But Gavin Newsom has clearly sided with China on this.''
Newsom's spokesman had no immediate comment.
Monday was the anniversary of a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile, and Tibetan exiles around the world used the day to protest this summer's games.
Exiles demonstrated in New Delhi, India, and Kathmandu, Nepal.
Protests occured globally [AFP]
In Dharmsala, India, the home of the Tibetan government in exile, hundreds of Tibetans started a planned six-month march to their homeland but were stopped a day into it by police, who were acting on an Indian government order banning the march.
In Olympia, Greece, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, Tibetans lit a Freedom Torch to start a relay intended to course through 50 cities and finish inside Tibet the same day Beijing will hold the opening ceremonies, August 8.
In San Francisco, Tibetan activists plan to line the parade route to remind Americans of China's human rights abuses in their home country, organisers said.
Chinese Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1951, and Beijing continues to rule the region with a heavy hand. China enforces strict controls on religious institutions and routinely vilifies the Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.
China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say they were essentially an independent state for most of that time.
The International Olympic Committee has said the games are not a political tool and has declined to comment on China's human rights record.