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Tibetans in India support 'zero COVID' protesters in China

NEW DELHI (AP) — About 150 Tibetan exiles held up blank pieces of paper as they rallied in India's capital on Friday to express solidarity with people in China protesting its “zero COVID” policy.

The blank paper is a symbol of defiance used by some protesters in China against the ruling Communist Party’s widespread censorship.

Street protests broke out in several Chinese cities over the weekend driven by anger over rigid restrictions to combat COVID-19. The “zero COVID” policy seeks to eradicate the virus through sweeping lockdowns, travel restrictions and relentless testing.

Since the protests, some Chinese cities have eased anti-virus restrictions as the government tries to defuse public anger.

The demonstration in New Delhi was organized by the Tibetan Youth Congress, which supports the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. It was held at Jantar Mantar, an area designated by authorities for protests near India’s Parliament building.

The protesters called for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down and chanted "Stop genocide in China” and “Free Tibet, Free China.”

Tenzin Tsundue, a writer and member of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said he was excited that Chinese people are speaking out against restrictions and demanding freedom and democracy.

“When protests are happening in China it is important for us to send this message to the people in China that we stand with you,” Tenzin said.

A large number of Tibetans have been living in exile in India since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese control. China doesn’t recognize the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India and rejects the Dalai Lama’s quest for greater Tibetan autonomy from Beijing.

The government-in-exile expressed deep concern on Friday over the situation in China and said it stood in solidarity with people protesting COVID-19 restrictions.

It said the areas with lockdowns included Lhasa in Tibet.

"This has caused immeasurable hardship as people faced extreme restrictions on movement, inadequate access to food and medicine, loss of livelihood and mental anguish,” it said in a statement.