India, with eye on China ties, bans Tibetans rally in New Delhi

India has banned Tibetans from holding a rally with the Dalai Lama in New Delhi this month to mark the 60th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, officials said on Wednesday, as it tries to improve fraught ties with China.

Relations between China and India have been tense in recent months after their troops faced off on a disputed part of their border. China was also angered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s February visit to the eastern border state of Arunachal Pradesh, also claimed by China.

Senior officials in the foreign and interior ministries said exiled Tibetans would not be allowed to hold a rally in the capital, but could do so in the northern town of Dharamsala, where a Tibetan government in exile is based.

“We don’t want Tibetans to hold big anti-China protests in New Delhi because it creates a bit of diplomatic tension between India and China,” said the senior foreign ministry official.

“It’s a very sensitive time for India and China ties and we want to ease tensions.”

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news briefing on Thursday that there was a “pressing need” for China and India to resolve a lack of mutual trust.

Authorities in India and Nepal have previously banned protests against China by Tibetans during sensitive times, such as visits by Chinese leaders.

China took control of Tibet in 1950 in what it calls a “peaceful liberation” of the remote, Himalayan region.

An uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet erupted in 1958 and troops crushed it the following year. The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled from the crackdown and was granted asylum in India.

The Dalai Lama has lived mostly in Dharamsala, where his supporters run a small government in exile and advocate for autonomy for Tibet by peaceful means.

An interior ministry also said the Tibetan rally could not be held in New Delhi.

“The Dalai Lama’s followers can host events, hold protests – but only in Dharamsala,” said the official, who also declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We have limited them this time.”

Dorje Gyalchen, a representative of the Tibetan community in Dharamsala, confirmed that the venue for the gathering planned for New Delhi would be changed.

China considers the Dalai Lama to be a dangerous separatist and has piled pressure on foreign governments to shun him. India allows him to pursue his religious activities in the country and to travel abroad.

Tens of thousands Tibetans live in 39 formal settlements and dozens of informal communities across India.

Rights groups say the Chinese government tramples on Tibet’s religious and cultural traditions, charges Beijing denies.

A Tibetan man in his forties died on Thursday after setting himself on fire in Ngawa county in southeastern China’s Sichuan province, according to advocacy group the International Campaign for Tibet.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the group’s account. The Ngawa government did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

The apparent self-immolation, which came as the annual meeting of China’s parliament is underway in Beijing and just prior to an anniversary of a Tibetan uprising on March 10, 1959.

Rights groups say there have been about 150 self-immolations by Tibetans in China since 2009, with the last reported case in December 2017.

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