DHARAMSALA, India, March 10 (Reuters) - Tibetan refugees protested across the world on Monday to mark the 49th anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule and press their demand for independence ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
In Nepal, many people were hurt when police used batons to break up a march on the Chinese embassy, while in neighbouring India 101 refugees set off on a five-month march to Tibet accompanied by thousands of well-wishers.
In Greece, a dozen Tibetans lit a torch outside Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games, to launch a global torch relay which they hope will be taken to more than 20 countries and end at Tibet's border just as the Beijing Olympics start on Aug. 8.
As the Olympics approach, Tibetans are trying to reinvigorate their freedom movement and protest against what they see as China's illegal occupation of their homeland.
In India, several thousand people, Tibetans, Indians and Westerners, accompanied the marchers as they set off from the town of Dharamsala, home to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the refugees' "government-in-exile".
"Everybody is pumped up," Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress told Reuters. "Many people were in tears as they said goodbye to the marchers. "As refugees we have a right to return to our homeland," he said, but Indian officials said the marchers would not be allowed to cross the border.
The marchers, red-robed Buddhist monks and nuns and young people born in exile, carried Tibetan flags and pictures of the Dalai Lama and Indian independence leader and advocate of non-violent civil disobedience Mahatma Gandhi.
The protests marked the anniversary of a 1959 uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, which was crushed by the People's Liberation Army, driving the Dalai Lama into exile.
"With the Olympics in China, and the Chinese government using this platform to legitimise its illegal occupation of Tibet, we are demonstrating that Tibet belongs to Tibetans and we will never give up until Tibet is independent," Rigzin said.
TIBETAN CUSTOMS "FADING AWAY"
The Dalai Lama used the occasion to complain that Tibet's language, customs and traditions were "gradually fading away" as they become "an insignificant minority" in their homeland.
Tibetans "have had to live in a state of constant fear, intimidation and suspicion under Chinese repression", he said in a statement issued from Dharamsala.
"Repression continues to increase with numerous, unimaginable and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and the politicisation of religious issues."
In Nepal, around 1,000 Tibetans shouting "free Tibet" tried to march towards the high-security Chinese embassy in Kathmandu but were stopped by police.
A protest organiser, who gave his name as Gyatho, said many were hurt and around 150 detained. Police said five of their men were hurt by stones thrown by the protesters.
Nepal's Home Ministry spokesman Modraj Dotel said police were ordered not to allow any "anti-China" demonstrations to go ahead.
In Greece, protesters were barred from entering the ancient site Olympia, which has hosted the Games' torch-lighting ceremony since 1936. Instead, they lit the torch outside the gates but complained of harassment by police.
"This is proof of the Chinese state's wide influence," Tendon Dahortsang of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe said.
"Greek authorities told us we were not allowed to go in because of our big bags, as Chinese embassy officials stood nearby and watched us."
Tibetan shot-putter Tsultrim Gope was the first relay runner who took the lit torch after five women representing goddesses performed a traditional Tibetan ceremony.
The Dalai Lama last week rejected a Chinese accusation that he was trying to sabotage the Olympics, saying he always supported Beijing's right to host the Games.
The organisers of the protests said they had not sought approval from the Dalai Lama, who takes a more moderate line than many of them and says he wants autonomy for Tibet, not outright independence. (Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu, Karolos Grohmann in Athens; Writing by Simon Denyer; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)