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Dalai Lama visiting Italy; no plans to meet pope

December 7, 2007

MILAN, Italy (AP) — The Dalai Lama opened a 10-day visit to Italy on
Thursday with few official meetings on his schedule and no plans by the
Vatican for a papal audience for the Tibetan spiritual leader, despite
earlier reports there would be one.

"I'm sorry I won't meet him," the Italian news agency quoted the Dalai
Lama as saying about Pope Benedict XVI.

"Given that I'm here, I would like to have seen him."

Italian news agencies, without identifying their sources, had reported
that Benedict planned to meet with him on Dec. 13, but the Vatican later
said there were no such plans.

Asked by Sky Italia TV if his visit appeared to be causing embarrassment
for some, the Dalai Lama insisted his visit was not political. "I'm only
a visitor," he said.

Benedict met with the Dalai Lama last year. His present visit to Italy
comes as the Vatican has stepped up efforts to improve church relations
with China and an audience would clearly anger Beijing.

The Dalai Lama's recent meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
and U.S. President George W. Bush drew strong rebukes from Beijing,
which claims he wants to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama insists
he only seeks autonomy for Tibet, which China has occupied since 1951.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday at a regular
news briefing in Beijing: "Wherever the Dalai Lama goes, or in what
name, the issue is not personal or religious. He represents a clique
trying to split the country and seeking Tibetan independence, to which
the Chinese government and people are firmly opposed."

Among his activities in Milan are a meeting with the president of the
Lombardy region and a ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize winners hosted by
the Milan mayor. He is due in Rome next week.
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