Tibetan Prime Minister-in-Exile visits Bern amid string of self-immolations

The new Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay began a European trip today (November 22, 2011) in Bern, meeting with Maya Graf of the Parliamentary committee on Tibet.  Particular attention was paid to a series of Tibetans lighting themselves on fire.  WRS’ Tony Ganzer reports.

The Tibetan opposition to Chinese policy has been anchored in non-violence for decades, but the series of self-immolations has unsettled the exile government’s new prime minister, Lobsang Sangay.

LOBSANG SANGAY: “I’m trying to give voice to the cries of these Tibetans. As they were on fire, most of them, as per our reports and media reports, died saying ‘restore freedom in Tibet’ and ‘long live His Holiness The Dalai Lama.’ And I’m traveling around to highlight the pains and the sufferings that they’ve been through.”

Sangay was elected in April, and became Tibet’s political leader in August following constitutional reforms and policy as laid-out by Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Newly in office, the Harvard-educated Sangay is beginning the next leg of a tour appealing to nations to notice what is happening in Tibet.

LOBSANG SANGAY: “I fear that the international community is not paying much attention. In the case of the Arab Spring, especially in Tunisia, it was just one college graduate who was jobless, who started a vegetable vendor which was not allowed. And then he self-immolated. But as far as Tibetans are concerned, twelve Tibetans have self-immolated. These are not numbers, these are human beings.”

Sangay met in Bern with Maya Graf, a member of the Swiss parliamentary group on Tibet. He also met with unnamed senior officials at the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs. Graf agreed the Tibetan issue is one for the larger international community.

The issue of Tibet, she says, is not an issue just about Tibet and the Tibetan people, but one for the world community. It’s not just about people who live under the pressure of China, but also about climate change, about natural resources, she says. What happens to Tibet in the future will affect the whole world community, she says.

Sangay did not make any specific appeal for action by the Swiss or any other nation, saying simply a sign of support would be appreciated. He has received such acknowledgments against such self-immolations from both E.U. And U.S. officials. As for a more active role from the Swiss in mediation, or building cultural bridges…

LOBSANG SANGAY: “…we like that kind of bridges, the Swiss kind of bridges. I am optimistic. Someone asked me what is the job description, I think job description is called ‘difficult.’ I’m just an ordinary guy who’s given this extraordinary responsibility. But I believe in this cause, and that’s why I left my job, left America.”

But Sangay quickly adds: he feels his contribution to the Tibetan cause pales in comparison to the suffering in Tibet.

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