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Sarkozy to meet Dalai Lama, overshadowing Nobel gathering

December 5, 2008

Channel News Asia - Singapore
04 December 2008
WARSAW: French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet with the Dalai Lama in Poland at the weekend for talks set to overshadow a gathering of Nobel peace laureates amid Chinese anger over the pair's meeting.
Sarkozy's decision to meet with Tibet's spiritual leader in Gdansk on Saturday already led China to scrap a summit this week with the European Union in France, which Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had been due to attend.
China directed its anger particularly at France because it holds the EU's rotating presidency.
"In China we have a saying: 'Whoever causes the problem should solve the problem.' It is not China that caused the present situation," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said last week.
Beijing objects to foreign leaders meeting with the Dalai Lama, who it maintains is trying to win independence for his Himalayan homeland that has been under Chinese rule since 1951.
The French president declined to meet the Dalai Lama when the Buddhist leader travelled to France in August after Beijing warned that such direct contact would have serious consequences for bilateral relations.
Sarkozy had already irked China when he threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games unless Beijing showed progress in talks on Tibet. He eventually attended the ceremony and has since sought to put relations on a stronger footing.
But Sarkozy announced last month that he would meet the Dalai Lama in Gdansk, describing him as "a distinguished man, a man who inspires profound respect and I will have the opportunity to see him in Poland on December 6."
The Dalai Lama, who insists he only wants meaningful autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule, and other Nobel Peace Prize laureates were invited to Gdansk to celebrate the 25 years since Poland's Lech Walesa won the award.
Former South African president F.W. de Klerk and Argentine human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel are due in Gdansk while Israeli President Shimon Peres and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will make video addresses.
Prime ministers from EU newcomers the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania have also been invited to Gdansk this weekend by Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk for talks with Sarkozy on the EU's proposed climate package.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Walesa's Nobel prize, a huge portrait of the anti-communist Solidarity union leader has been painted on the side of the housing block in Gdansk where he, his wife Danuta and their eight children lived during the 1980s.
An electrician at the Gdansk shipyard on Poland's Baltic Sea coast, Walesa was catapulted into the world spotlight in 1980 after becoming the leader of a mass movement of Polish workers striking against the then communist regime that became Solidarity, the communist bloc's first and only trade union.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize October 5, 1983 for leading a Solidarity's peaceful struggle for freedom.
Under Walesa's leadership, Solidarity and Poland's Communist Party negotiated a bloodless end to communism in Poland just six years later.
A historic election held June 4, 1989 brought a landslide victory for the Solidarity opposition and sounded the death knell of communist rule in Poland.
"Twenty-five years ago, the Solidarity union was barely alive and the Communist Party was doing well," Walesa told AFP in an interview this week.
"The Nobel prize put the wind in our sails. It convinced us the free world had not forgotten us, that on the contrary it was demanding us to carry on our struggle," he said.
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