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TOFTTaipei: - Tibetan artists and musicians will gather in the Tawainese capital, Taipei, over the coming weeks to take part in a festival promoting Tibetan culture and tradition.

The first Free Tibet Festival, which kicked off February 18 and runs until March 11, will include a photo exhibition, film screenings, lectures, music, dance and theatrical performances.

Taiwan Friends of Tibet's president Chou Mei-li said her organization and local theatre group Dark Eyes Performance Lab have worked together on the festival with the aim of giving the Taiwanese public a better understanding of Tibetan culture.

"For many Taiwanese, the mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism come to mind when they think of Tibet," said Chou, "but we hope that people can obtain a broader understanding of the diversity of Tibetan culture through the festival."

Since his Holiness the Dalai Lama's flight to India in 1959, Tibetan culture has gradually been eroded by the Chinese authorities. Dharamshala, in northern India - home to the Tibetan government-in-exile - has subsequently become the hub of Tibetan culture in exile, and is visited by artists and writers from around the world, eager to participate in the preservation of Tibetan culture.

The festival stems from a trip by Hung Hung, artistic director of Dark Eyes Performance Lab, to Dharamsala last April.

Around 40 artists and musicians from Dharamshala and other international Tibetan communities will participate and perform - among them world-famous singer Kelsang Chukie Tethong, who will perform traditional Tibetan folk songs on March 3.

JJI Exile Brothers - a rock band comprising three brothers living in Dharamshala - will perform at the Wall Live House on February 29. Their music fuses traditional Tibetan music with rock, jazz and blues.

The festival will screen 16 documentaries by Tibetan, Taiwanese, European and American directors between March 2 and 9, on issues ranging from human rights to religion, environmental protection and education. A photo exhibition about Tibet prior to Chinese rule will also run throughout the festival.

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