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Belgium denies it pressured Dalai Lama to cancel visit

7 February 2005

BRUSSELS – The Belgian government has denied it cancelled a visit by the Dalai Lama to avoid straining relations with China during a royal visit there.

Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht insisted on Sunday the decision to call off the ten day visit of the controversial Tibetan spiritual leader in June was taken by the Dalai Lama himself.

“There was indeed a problem. By coincidence the Dalai Lama’s trip fell at the same time as a state visit by the [Belgian] King to China. The problem was put to the Dalai Lama, who has a policy of not wanting to damage relations between third countries and China. The Dalai Lama took his decision in total freedom,” he said via a Belgian foreign ministry statement published on Sunday.

The statement was only issued after a TV report on Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said that the visit had been cancelled.

De Gucht insisted that the Belgian government was still committed to promoting human rights, but organisers of the visit expressed disappointment.

“We have been preparing this trip for five years,” said spokesman Frans Goetghebeur. “We are waiting for a gesture of understanding and help from the Belgian authorities.”

The General Secretary of the Belgian Greens, Isabelle Durant, has pledged to question De Gucht on the issue.

“It is difficult to understand why the spiritual leader of Tibetan buddhism, a living symbol of peace, is not coming to Belgium when he has been to France and Canada, who both have commercial relations with China,” she told Belga news agency.

The Dalai Lama was exiled in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

His followers claim Beijing has long subjected Tibet’s Buddhist-based culture to political and religious repression.

The Chinese authorities have accused the Dalai Lama of separatist activities, even though he says he recognises Tibet as a part of China.

Direct ties between Beijing and the Dalai Lama were restored in 2002 after a total collapse of relations in 1993.

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news