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Young Tibetans reject Dalai Lama's lead

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  • Young activists have organized "Free Tibet" marches to demand independence
  • The Chinese government considers Tibet an autonomous province
  • The Dalai Lama makes call for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet
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(CNN) -- While the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet, many younger Tibetans do not follow him on a crucial question -- whether Tibet should have genuine autonomy or independence from China.

The young activists who have organized "Free Tibet" marches around the world demand independence for a homeland most of them have never seen. Born in exile, they reject the Dalai Lama's "middle way" of seeking "meaningful autonomy" -- not independence -- from China.

The youth activists also call for an international boycott of the Beijing Olympics, something the Dalai Lama does not do.

The Chinese government considers Tibet an autonomous province, but many Tibetans say it is autonomous in name only. The Dalai Lama says the Chinese often treat Tibetans as second-class citizens in their own land. He argues that Tibetans need full and genuine autonomy to protect their cultural heritage.

The Chinese government rejects international calls that it talk with the Dalai Lama, insisting he is a "separatist" and that his "clique" masterminded protests that convulsed Tibet last week and have spread to three neighboring Chinese provinces.

Tenzin Tsundue, a 32-year-old Tibetan activist and writer, said the Dalai Lama's demand for authentic autonomy from China was "wishful thinking."

In a 2005 interview published by the Tibet Society of South Africa, Tenzin said it was "highly unlikely" China would ever make the changes called for by the Dalai Lama.

"Because the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet would inspire and unite the Tibetans so powerfully, that there'd be a revolution, and China can't have that happen," Tenzin said.

"His Holiness has frequently begged for autonomy -- but they will not budge, even though he was criticized for doing so by many of our youth for this compromise."

The Dalai Lama was himself a young man when he was last in Tibet. He was forced into exile, along with about 80,000 others, in 1959 when the Chinese military put down an uprising.

Tenzin is one of the leaders of a pro-independence march from Dharmasala, India to the border of Tibet. The walk, which they hope to complete just before the start of the Beijing Olympics in August, was stopped just as it began last week when Indian police arrested participants.

The Tibetan youth movement does embrace the Dalai Lama's strategy of peaceful protests, he said.

"On non-violent method, there's no disagreement with His Holiness," Tenzin said in a CNN interview last week. "There is this difference that I see, and especially among the younger generation of Tibetans who are saying, no compromise on independence."

Tenzin's only visit to Tibet came when he went in without permission in 1997. Tenzin, then 22, was eventually caught by police, jailed for three months for being a "foreigner" and sent back to India.

He later said he was taken by how much China had erased Tibetan culture from the region, with everything "Chinese in character or under Chinese control."

Tenzin said in the 2005 interview that China was "smothering the Tibetan voice" by moving into Tibet thousands of Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of Chinese citizens.

The Dalai Lama, in denying the charge he was behind the recent outbreaks of violence in China, said that control of Tibetan culture by China fuels the protests. The "cultural genocide" of his people causes the deep resentment toward China that fuels Tibetan protests, he said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Tuesday that China has "plenty of evidence proving" that Tibetan protests were "organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited" by the Dalai Lama's "clique."

"The consistent claims made by the Dalai clique that they pursue, not independence, but peaceful dialogue, are nothing but lies," Wen said.

In his own news conference Sunday, the Dalai Lama said "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet would protect its "ancient cultural heritage." Without autonomy, he said Tibetans would continue to be treated as "second class citizens in their own land."

Still, the younger Tibetan exiles appear determined to press for independence.

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Tenzin, who is also know for his poetry, once wrote about it.

"The dream of a free Tibet will live on," he wrote. "The Tibetan youth are charged with a huge surge of energy. We constitute an anthropological case study, a generation of youth born in exile, the majority of whom have never seen Tibet, but are incredibly passionate about it. We will struggle, suffer and die for a free Tibet." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report

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