Thousands show support for Dalai Lama in Berlin
A massive crowd welcomed the Tibetan spiritual leader in the German capital on the last day of his publicity tour through the country
Berlin – More than 15,000 people gathered around Berlin's Brandenburg Gate Monday afternoon, to hear the Dalai Lama and to show support for Tibetan autonomy.
Addressing the crowd through a translator, the Dalai Lama emphasised that his campaign was not against China as a state, saying, "The Tibetan issue is just an issue -- a moral issue."
The Tibetan spiritual leader, concluding a four-day lecture and publicity tour through Germany, has been trying to raise awareness of Tibetan cultural freedom. The rally was organized by two German Tibetan groups and the Society for Threatened Peoples and Tibetan exiles from around Europe made the journey to listen to their spiritual leader.
Standing on the same spot where former US President Ronald Reagan famously called on the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall, the Dalai Lama called to China to open up to Tibet and talk more openly about the situation.He also used Germany's history as an example of what he hoped to achieve in Tibet: "The Berlin wall disappeared not by force, but by popular peaceful movement."
The Dalai Lama has repeatedly stressed his commitment to non-violent protest as a means of change.
He called for the crowd to show solidarity with the victims of the recent Chinese earthquake, encouraging those assembled to take part in mass prayer for them, as well as the victims of the cyclone in Burma.
A small number of pro-Chinese counter demonstrators stood forlornly outside of the nearby Reichstag building. They held banners demanding that the Dalai Lama stop what they see as a political movement.
People came from far and wide to show the solidarity with the Tibetan cause, as well as simply to see the Dalai Lama. By the time he arrived, both sides of the Brandenburg gate bursting with people that flowed into the city's Tiergarten woods, listening to bands and speeches by members of the German parliament.
One pro-Tibet protester, 25 year old Franziska Brandt, said she had travelled over 250 miles to be at the event to show solidarity.
"I came here today because I care about the Tibetans and I am interested in their culture," she said. "It is also an opportunity to put pressure on our own government to take some more positive steps on the issue of Tibet and show a clear demonstration of our support."
The German government's response to the Dalai Lama in Germany has been controversial. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had refused to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader because of his tight schedule, officials said. Critics and analysts alike say that Steinmeier does not wish to create tension with the Chinese government. Earlier this week, there was official contact between Beijing and Berlin to express dissatisfaction at the Dalai Lama's visit.
The Chinese see the Tibetan leader as a separatist and discourage other governments from meeting him. There was a diplomatic storm last October when German Chancellor Angela Merkel received him as a guest in Berlin. This time, Merkel was otherwise occupied at a conference in Latin America.
-- Dominic Hinde