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Taiwan says Dalai Lama can visit - at right time

December 7, 2008

TAIPEI Fri Dec 5, 2008 (Reuters) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, under fire from Buddhist groups for blocking a visit by the Dalai Lama, said on Friday the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader would eventually be welcome.
 
Ma on Wednesday quashed hopes for a 2009 visit by the Dalai Lama, saying the time was wrong, as his government works to improve relations with China. Beijing brands the India-based Tibetan luminary as a separatist and condemns his trips abroad.
 
Taiwan Buddhist groups, who had suggested the visit back in September, have since roundly criticised Ma.
 
"Perhaps now is not the best time," Ma told a group of visiting Italian legislators on Friday, refering to the Dalai Lama's visit. "If there's a more appropriate time in the future, we welcome him to participate in religious activities."
 
Taiwan, home to a large exiled Tibetan community and millions of Buddhists, allowed visits by the Dalai Lama in 1997 and 2002.
 
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's KMT fled to Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
 
Since taking office in May, Ma's administration has avoided action that could anger Beijing as he pursues trade ties.
 
The 73-year-old Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in the region, occupied by People's Liberation Army troops in 1950.
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