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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

France to welcome Dalai Lama under shadow of China row

August 11, 2008

August 10, 2008

PARIS (AFP) -- The Dalai Lama kicks off Tuesday an 11-day visit to
France that threatened to spark a crisis between Paris and Beijing,
until President Nicolas Sarkozy quashed speculation he would meet the
Tibetan spiritual leader.

Planned more than two years ago, the Nobel peace laureate's French
visit turned suddenly political after a Chinese crackdown on unrest
in Tibet in March that sparked international outrage in the run-up to
the Beijing Olympics.

Sarkozy's initial threat to boycott the Olympic opening ceremony,
together with rowdy pro-Tibet protests during the passage of the
Olympic flame through Paris, fuelled a months-long diplomatic spat
with Beijing.

And a decision by the opposition-held Paris city hall to name the
73-year-old spiritual guide an honorary citizen further fanned tensions.

Though Sarkozy decided last month to attend Friday's opening, noting
progress in talks between China and the Dalai Lama, he failed to
prevent a wave of protests targeting French commercial interests in China.

Speculation over a meeting with the Buddhist leader in France since
then continued to pour oil on the fire, with the Chinese ambassador
in Paris warning of "serious consequences" for bilateral relations.

The French leader's office finally announced Wednesday that no
meeting would take place, saying it was the Dalai Lama's decision.

The Dalai Lama's representative in France Wangpo Bashi told AFP that
the "timing is not right", saying a meeting during the Olympics
risked setting back talks between Tibetan and Chinese parties.

Instead, Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy -- who under French law
has no official function -- will attend the inauguration by Dalai
Lama of a temple in southern France on August 22.

On Wednesday, the Buddhist leader is scheduled to meet some 250
senators and deputies from the French parliamentary group on Tibet,
before holding talks with leaders of the French Tibetan community.

The rest of his August 12-23 stay will be devoted to religious
visits, in the Paris region and elsewhere, and a six-day teaching
cycle in the western city of Nantes.

"It is first and foremost a spiritual, religious visit," said Bashi,
who heads the Tibet Bureau in Paris. "That is how it was always intended."

France is home to an estimated 770,000 Buddhists, according to the
French Buddhist union, three quarter of them of Asian origin.

The Dalai Lama has visited France a dozen times since 1982, meeting
with city or government officials and once with the president, the
late Francois Mitterrand, in 1993.

France's left-wing Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and junior
minister for human rights Rama Yade have both said they would be
willing to meet him, but no such plans have been announced.

Sarkozy has been accused at home of flip-flopping on the issue of the
Olympics and undermining France's credibility in China.

Critics note that other Western leaders, including of the United
States, Canada, Australia, Germany and Britain have met the Dalai
Lama in the past two years without jeopardising their relations with Beijing.

Speaking from the Olympics opening ceremony, Sarkozy insisted Friday
the meeting "has merely been postponed".

The Dalai Lama's representative confirmed that a meeting would take
place before the end of the year.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and officially "liberated" it
the following year. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959
following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking independence for Tibet and
of fomenting unrest in the territory to sabotage the Olympic Games.

The spiritual leader insists he wants autonomy and religious freedom
rather than independence for Tibet, and has sent Beijing his "prayers
and best wishes" for the success of the Olympics.
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