Tibetans shun New Year celebrations for 2nd year

(AP) – Tibetans have decided against celebrating the Lunar New Year for a second year in remembrance of the suffering of people inside Tibet, the Dalai Lama said Sunday.

The Tibetan spiritual leader asked his followers not to lose hope, saying people in Tibet have shown great courage and sincerity in facing China’s crackdown after uprisings in March 2008.

Tibetans in exile also called off New Year celebrations last year. The Lunar New Year holiday that began Saturday is the most important of the year in China.

“Tibetans are only observing religious ceremonies and not celebrating the New Year,” the Dalai Lama told more than a thousand Tibetans in exile who dressed in traditional finery and greeted him at the Tsuglakhang temple.

The Dalai Lama led a prayer session, attended by senior Buddhist monks and Tibetan parliamentarians. Tibetans beat drums and cymbals during the two-hour ceremony on the terrace of the temple.

A group of young Tibetans, led by Tenzin Tsundue, a writer and political activist, waved Tibetan flags outside the temple and shouted “Free Tibet.”

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama in Washington next Thursday. China has urged Washington to cancel the meeting and says it could damage U.S.-China relations.

China accuses the Dalai Lama of pushing to free Tibet from Chinese rule, which he denies.

He has been living in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala since he fled Tibet 50 years ago when Chinese troops marched in.

China maintains that Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for much of its history.