In Des Moines, Tibetans rallied carrying flag draped coffins in a symbolic act of mourning and solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet. The Iowa stop follows days of pro-Tibet demonstrations in the nation's capital, including the unfurling of a massive banner reading Xi: Tibet Will be Free from a landmark bridge.
"When Iowa Governor Branstad meets with Vice President Xi Jinping, he must publicly and vigorously raise Tibet and call for the end to China's violent crackdown. The values Americans cherish most - human rights, democracy, and freedom are not just a ‘federal government responsibility' but the moral and civic responsibility of every elected official," said Tenzin Khando of the Midwest Coalition for Tibet. "We also appeal to Iowa State Senators to stand with Tibet and to support the calls of Tibetans for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet," she added.
Vice President Xi Jinping's visit comes just two days after Losang Gyatso, age 19, self-immolated in Ngaba town in eastern Tibet. Twenty-four Tibetans have now set fire to themselves in Tibet since 2009, 11 since January 2012, in an unprecedented show of defiance to Chinese rule.
In an effort to stop news of the unrest reaching the world after security forces opened fire on protesters calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government has sealed Tibet off to foreigners and journalists.
"Governor Branstad should open his eyes to the true face of the Chinese government, a tyrannical oppressive regime that has not only declared an all out assault on the Tibetan people but also enabled the Syrian dictatorship to massacre its own people," said Gabriel Feinstein, a spokesperson with the Midwest Coalition for Tibet. Xi Jinping's next stop is Los Angeles where further protests await the Vice-President.