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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan exiles play down shift from China policy

November 18, 2008

By Abhishek Madhukar
The Washington Post/Reuters
November 17, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) -- Tibetan exiles played down Monday
speculation of a challenge to the Dalai Lama's "middle way approach"
to China, at the start of a special meeting to discuss their policy
of pushing for autonomy in the region. "A change in policy need not
come from this meeting," the Tibetan cabinet-in-exile said in a statement.

"If a change in basic policy is considered necessary, there is a way
that is democratic and which has the mandate of the Tibetan people."

Hundreds of Tibetans are attending the six-day meeting at the seat of
the government-in-exile in northern India, in what could result in a
change to their spiritual leader's stance of pushing for autonomy
rather than independence for Tibet. Many are frustrated at the lack
of progress in talks with China, which in early November again
rejected a long-standing demand for autonomy at the eighth round of
talks between Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama.

"It is difficult to conclude if such tremendous efforts by His
Holiness have brought any positive results," the cabinet's statement
said, though it added that the Dalai Lama had followed the "middle
way" with the full mandate of the Tibetan people.

The 73-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who called for the meeting in
September but who will not personally attend, recently hinted his
"middle way" for Tibet had failed, and speculation has grown he wants
to step back from day-to-day political leadership.

The speaker of the Tibetan government-in-exile told Reuters the
cabinet has consulted thousands of Tibetans inside Tibet ahead of the
meeting for their opinions on policy.

More than 5,000 of those asked called for a change to the "middle
way" approach, 2,000 said it should continue as it is, while 8,000
said they would follow any future decision taken by the Dalai Lama,
Karma Choephel said.

Beijing had pressured the Indian government to prevent the meeting of
exiles from taking place, the speaker added.

Around a thousand people gathered at a school in Dharamsala Monday
for the inaugural ceremony of the meeting, carrying a framed picture
of the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan government-in-exile offered prayers and made effigies to
counter the belief this Monday was a "black day" in Tibetan
astrology, an astrologer told Reuters.

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959, was hospitalized with
abdominal pain in August and underwent gallstone surgery in October.

He says Chinese rule stifles religious and cultural freedom in Tibet
and skews wealth and opportunities away from poor Tibetans while
encouraging influxes of Chinese migrants.

Chinese officials last week said while the door to Tibetan
independence or semi-independence would never open, the door to talks
was always open.

Beijing vilifies the Dalai Lama as a traitor and earlier this year
accused him of orchestrating a deadly wave of unrest in Tibet ahead
of the Beijing Olympics.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Jerry Norton)
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