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Asia

Leaders of Tibetans in exile say non-violence is key

As Tibetan monks continue to set themselves on fire in China, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile has said non-violence and democracy are two principles that should not be compromised.

Although they cannot bring the dead back to life, they can commemorate them. Each time a monk pours fuel over himself and sets himself on fire on the other side of the Himalayas in China, a candle is lit on this side in Dharamsala in India, where the Dalai Lama and several thousand Tibetans in exile live today.

Although Buddhism forbids suicide, there have never been as many self-immolations in Tibetan history as this year, as monks try to draw attention to their desperation by turning themselves into human torches.

This makes it difficult for the leaders of the Tibetans. "Our stand is very clear because as a human being you really don't want to see anyone die," Lobsang Sangay told the German public radio station ARD, adding that he had repeatedly appealed against "drastic actions including self-immolations inside Tibet."

However, he also said he could "understand why they're doing it because there is no space or room for any form of protest in China. As a human being you discourage them, tell them not to do it, as a Buddhist you pray for them, and as a Tibetan you show solidarity."

Tibetan exiles carry Tibetan flags and a portrait of the Dalai Lama

Candlelit vigils are organized out of solidarity for monks

Non-violence should not be compromised

There is pressure on the government-in-exile from younger Tibetans in particular to move away from the "middle way" approach favored by the Dalai Lama but Sangay is adamant.

"My job is already a difficult one and this adds one more layer of difficulty. […] We stand for non-violence and we stand for democracy - two principles we will not compromise."

Lobsang Sangay was elected to his post in April 2011 after the Dalai Lama said the "time had come" for him to step down from politics. He remains the spiritual leader of the Tibetans but Sangay is their most important political representative, which entails a great deal of responsibility.

Lobsang Sangay

Lobsang Sangay feels fit to face the challenges ahead

The prime minister told the ARD that he was well-equipped to live up to the challenge: "I am a Tibetan who grew up in a refugee camp, went to refugee school, then went to Harvard Law School, where I spent 16 years, did my master's and doctorate and was appointed fellow and senior fellow. I am a Tibetan, yet modern. I have elements of Buddhist leaning, yet secular. Very much from a refugee camp, yet more Western - that's me."

Although the view of Buddhist monasteries from Lobsang Sangay's office in Dharamsala is idyllic, all is not as it seems. Not even the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Price laureate, has managed to persuade China to make concessions.

In fact, the spiritual leader has had to look on as the situation in Tibet has worsened. As the younger generation loses patience, it is unlikely the weight of responsibility on Lobsang Sangay's shoulders will lessen.

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