The new head of the Tibetan government-in-exile took office Monday, vowing to continue the struggle of his predecessor, the Dalai Lama, and warning China's leaders that the movement to seek "genuine" autonomy in Tibet will be "stronger."
Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained legal scholar who was elected to lead the exile government based in India's hill town of Dharamshala, said the "socialist paradise" the Tibetans were promised when Beijing took over Tibet in 1950 remained a pipe-dream and that they needed to free themselves from "colonialism."
He said that "ongoing political repression, cultural assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction in occupied Tibet is unacceptable.
"Tibet is not the paradise that it could be: today, it is a tragedy because of the Chinese occupation," Sangay said, as the 76-year-old Dalai Lama, who remains the exiles' spiritual leader, presided at the inauguration ceremony.
Sangay also said that his election in April sent "a clear message to the hardliners in the Chinese government that Tibetan leadership is far from fizzling out—we are democracy that will only grow stronger in years ahead. And we are here to stay."
He pledged to sustain the movement "until freedom is restored to Tibet," stressing that the fight was "not against the Chinese people or China as a country."
"Our struggle is against the hardline policies of the Chinese regime in Tibet ... against those who would deny freedom, justice, dignity and the very identity of the Tibetan people," he said.
In an apparent move to reject speculations that he would adopt a more radical approach against Beijing, Sangay said he would stick to the Dalai Lama's non-violence principle and the "middle-way" policy to seek "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet under Chinese rule.
At a press conference afterwards, Sangay acknowledged that he was unlikely to be involved in direct talks with Beijing, which refuses to negotiate with anyone except envoys of the Dalai Lama.
"If China doesn't want to talk to me as a person and only with the representatives of His Holiness, it's fine with us," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
"What we are interested in is resolving the issue. It's not about personalities."
The Dalai Lama, who hugged and blessed the new leader after the ceremony, expressed relief that Sangay has taken over the political mantle of the Tibetan struggle.
“Today is a proud day for all the Tibetan people who had participated in the democratic elections. My most cherished aspiration has been fulfilled."
“The Tibetans in Tibet are not allowed to even express their views and opinions freely, let alone participate in a democratic election, but I am sure they would be proud of the steps that we have taken towards the future when they hear about it,” the Dalai Lama said.
Thousands of Tibetans and well-wishers, including Indian and foreign dignitaries, braved the rain and participated in the swearing-in ceremony.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. He later founded the government in exile after being offered refuge by India.
He has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle since then.
Despite persistently denying that he is seeking independence for Tibet, the Dalai Lama continues to be vilified by the Chinese leadership, who call him a "splittist" and a "wolf in monk's clothes."
Many experts say China is waiting for the Dalai Lama's death, when they believe the Tibetan cause will suffer without his leadership and international popularity.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.