Thousands rally to temple after Dalai rumour

Reuters, July 19, 2006

BEIJING, China -- Thousands of Buddhists  converged on a Buddhist monastery in western China mistakenly thinking the Dalai Lama would be there, underscoring the devotion many feel toward Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

Tibet activists and the government-in-exile said up to 9,000 had converged on Kumbum Monastery — known in Chinese as Taersi — in Qinghai province, which encompasses part of the Tibetan plateau and is home to a large ethnic-Tibetan population. It was not clear where the rumour started.

“It’s also extremely puzzling to us,” said Thubten Samphel, a spokesman for Tibet’s government-in-exile. “He is in Dharamsala,” he added.

An official at the Religious Affairs Bureau in Xining, said: “The number cannot be that big. There are 300 at most.”

But reports from the International Campaign for Tibet and the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said thousands had been arriving since the weekend.

Although many had returned home, others who had not heard that the Dalai would not be there were still arriving.

“It shows how cut off they are from the rest of the world — the Chinese have made such stringent attempts to block information that Tibetans had no way of checking the rumours,” said Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet.