Switzerland’s Tibetans protest amid China premier’s visit

Tibetans living in exile in Switzerland protest

Tibetans living in exile in Switzerland protest during the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Switzerland's capital Bern on 24 May 2013. Demotix/Erik Tham


BERNE, Switzerland, 25 May 2013

Tibetan exiles today urged Swiss authorities to take China to task for its human rights record, amid a landmark visit by Premier Li Keqiang focused squarely on a trade deal.

Waving Tibetan flags and chanting slogans such as “free the prisoners”, “stop the killing” and “long live the Dalai Lama”, hundreds of demonstrators rallied in the Swiss capital Berne.

“We’re asking the Swiss government not to forget the principles of human rights,” community leader Pasang Memmishofer told AFP.

“Our basic message is that the condition in Tibet is disastrous. Tibetans can’t live in a dignified way. They are second-class citizens in their own home,” she added.

Switzerland is home to a Tibetan community of some 5,000 people which has grown up since China took over Tibet in 1959.

Its protests during visits by Chinese officials have in the past seen Berne face sharp rebukes from Beijing.

Memmishofer, whose husband is also Tibetan but was adopted by a Swiss family, said that despite Beijing’s claims that exiles want to split the Himalayan region from China, they are simply seeking respect and autonomy.

“We’re asking Premier Li to resume a dialogue with us. Only through dialogue can anything happen,” she added.

Li is on his first visit to Europe since taking the helm in March in a once-in-a-decade Beijing power transfer.

He was to ink a preliminary free-trade deal today with Switzerland, before heading to Germany, China’s top European commercial partner.

There have been suggestions that building trade ties could help promote human rights and democracy in China, but Memmishofer said that process, even if it happened, would be too slow.

“Will it take another 50 years of suffering in Tibet? The situation is getting worse,” she said.

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