Paris honours Dalai Lama despite China fury

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Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama renewed his attack on China's "totalitarian regime" on Sunday as he prepared to be made an honorary citizen of the French capital Paris.

Paris - Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama renewed his attack on China's "totalitarian regime" on Sunday as he prepared to be made an honorary citizen of the French capital Paris.

Although he has insisted that his latest tour of Europe is non-political, the Buddhist leader has made a point of meeting with non-Tibetan Chinese dissidents and accused Beijing of plotting repression in his homeland.

The visit has proved a diplomatic challenge to France, which is still trying to patch up ties to China, strained in recent months by a December meeting between President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Tibetan leader.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of being a leader of Tibetan separatists, and regards any official meeting with him as meddling in its internal affairs. It has warned European capitals of diplomatic retaliation.

In Paris, he was to be honoured by the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, at a ceremony which Sarkozy's government describes as a purely municipal and not state matter. Nevertheless, Beijing was expected to react with anger.

The Dalai Lama has himself made no effort to avoid upsetting China, holding several meetings with Chinese dissidents, French lawmakers and reporters to denounce was he said was a "death sentence" imposed on Tibet.

In particular, he alleged that rioting that erupted in Tibet in March last year had been fomented by agents of the Chinese state in order to justify a subsequent crackdown and smear local activists as rioters.

"Despite a heavy security presence throughout Lhasa from 10 March onwards, it remains unclear why the Chinese forces of order remained inactive for so long in the centre of the city," the Dalai Lama said.

"On 14 March, Tibetans unknown to anyone in Lhasa started to burn shops and throw stones at the Chinese without police interference, while film crews already in place filmed the scene and broadcast it throughout the world.

"Only then did the security forces crack down on the disturbances. It is hard not to suspect a deliberate staging of riots," he said, speaking in Tibetan through his French translator Matthieu Richard.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner also accused Beijing of misrepresenting his position on Tibet's independence, saying the Chinese had privately accepted that he seeks only autonomy while publicly denouncing him as a separatist.

Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama has been careful to insist that while he has "no faith in China's totalitarian government" he trusts "the Chinese people", whom he hopes will one day demand more democracy from their leaders.

Marie Holzman, head of a Franco-Tibetan solidarity group, said: "He wants to counter Beijing's propaganda, which tends to pit the Chinese against the Tibetans, and bring back good relations between the ethnic groups."

Later Sunday the Dalai Lama was to address an audience of supporters at a large sportshall in Paris before heading on to City Hall to receive his honorary citizenship award.

France and China have only just patched up relations following anger over Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama in Poland in December, a decision which led Beijing to cancel an EU-China summit.

Last month China warned France not to make more "errors" on Tibet.

"If the Paris city government does make this award, it will definitely meet once again with the Chinese people's firm opposition," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in Dharamsala in India since 1959 when China took full control of Tibet, began his latest European tour in Denmark last Friday and has also visited Iceland and the Netherlands.

AFP / Ingrid Bazinet / Expatica

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