NEW DELHI — Antiriot fences were erected, thousands of police were on alert, Tibetan protesters were massing, and a crack Chinese security squad arrived in New Delhi for what added up to a difficult predicament today for India's government: the passing of the Olympic torch on its way to Beijing.
Ever since protests demanding greater autonomy for Tibet broke out last month, India's leaders have found themselves in a tight spot, squeezed uncomfortably between the country's own famed history of respect for nonviolent protest and a keen desire not to annoy China, its giant neighbor to the east.
India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi, is home to more than 100,000 Tibetan exiles, Tibet's government-in-exile and, since 1959, the Dalai Lama, a man India's prime minister recently called "the greatest living Gandhian" for his commitment to nonviolence.
India, however, also counts China as its biggest trading partner, with the two Asian giants swapping $20-billion in goods and services last year. Slowly warming relations between the two uneasy rivals have also led to hopes that a Himalayan border dispute, the key point of tension between the countries, might in time find a resolution.
On Wednesday, thousands of Tibetans reportedly were heading to New Delhi to protest and will take part in their own torch run to highlight the Tibetan struggle against China. Exiles also have urged Indian athletes to boycott the torch relay and asked residents to wear "Free Tibet" T-shirts and fly Tibetan flags.
About 100 Tibetan exiles tried to breach the security Wednesday around the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. About 50 were detained. Officials are desperate to avoid the torch chaos that occurred in London, Paris and San Francisco.