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Dalai Lama calls Merkel a friend as China fumes

November 23, 2007

November 21, 2007

TOKYO (AFP) — The Dalai Lama said Wednesday he met with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this year as a friend after China
complained that the landmark encounter had damaged ties with Berlin.

The exiled Tibetan leader also said he was not bothered he could not see
leaders on a current visit to Japan, which unlike many Western countries
has refused official contact with him.

Merkel on September 23 became the first German chancellor to meet with
the Dalai Lama.

China, which sent troops into Tibet in 1950, cancelled several
gatherings with Germany in protest and said Tuesday that relations were
"seriously damaged" after Merkel publicly stood by her decision.

The Dalai Lama told reporters he first met Merkel when she was leader of
the opposition.

"I feel she kept human spirits, friendship. If she's become the
chancellor, she is the same human being," he said in English.

"So when I met her in Berlin, I mentioned that I came to see you as one
of your friends. I appreciated she kept a human, spiritual friendship,"
he said.

China on Tuesday called on Germany to take "concrete steps" to repair
relations after Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama, which was also
criticised by her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder.

But Merkel showed no signs of backing down, saying in an interview
published Wednesday that she would meet with whom she wants.

"The best thing would be for the Chinese leadership to seek direct talks
with the Dalai Lama, who wants cultural autonomy for Tibet and the
protection of human rights," she told Bild, Germany's top-selling newspaper.

The Dalai Lama has been a frequent visitor in Washington, where last
month he met with President George W. Bush and the Congress bestowed on
him the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest civilian award it can give.

But Japan, which has uneasy ties with China due to wartime history,
refused even to provide security to the Dalai Lama on his 10-day visit here.

The 72-year-old monk said he was not upset as he had come to celebrate
the 50th anniversary of the Japan Buddhist Federation.

"Firstly, the main purpose of this trip is nonpolitical. And I always do
not want to create any inconvenience to anybody," the Dalai Lama said.

"So no problem," he said with a smile.

The Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 for India following a
failed uprising, again denied Beijing's charges he is a separatist,
saying he wants autonomy within China.

"Many sensible Chinese fully support our approach, but hardliners fear
and also are suspicious" that Tibetans are seeking independence, the
Dalai Lama said.

"I think the whole world knows our side is not seeking independence. The
only problem is they (hardliners) are always suspicious," he said.

He also called for special care to Tibet's ecosystem, saying that
corruption among Chinese bureaucrats was worsening deforestation.

"Some Chinese businessmen still can carry out deforestation and also
they exploit natural resources with poor care for the ecology," he said.

Because major rivers originating in Tibet feed into South Asia, "special
care of the Tibetan ecology is not only the concerns for six million
Tibetans, but also the concerns for millions of people," he said.
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