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German government gives cold shoulder to Dalai Lama - Feature

May 13, 2008

Deutsche Press Agentur (DPA)
May 11, 2008

Berlin - When the Dalai Lama visited Germany in September last year he was received in a blaze of publicity by Chancellor Angela Merkel. This time, the reception will be decidedly cooler. Nobody in the government wants to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel peace laureate when he pays a four-day visit to Germany at the end of this week.

Merkel will be away in South America and her deputy, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, turned down an official request for a meeting because he doesn't have time.

German President Horst Koehler has also ruled out a meeting because of scheduling difficulties, his spokesman, Martin Kothe told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Television journalist Franz Alt dismissed the reason as a poor excuse. "The president is kowtowing to the Chinese. That is cowardice," Alt was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Alt said it made no sense for German leaders to refuse a meeting when the Chinese themselves were holding talks with Tibetan representatives.

The Dalai Lama, who begins his visit on May 16, told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the negotiations in China were being held in an atmosphere that was "not aggressive but respectful."

Both sides had agreed on a "common approach" to the talks, which began this month in the city of Shenzhen, Der Spiegel's online edition reported.

The Tibetan leader said he believed that Chinese side had agreed to the talks under pressure from the protests in Tibet in March and in fear that the Beijing Olympics, which begin in August, could be harmed.

"I can only encourage every free society to keep up the pressure," he said, stressing that the talks with Beijing had to be productive and not just symbolic

The Dalai Lama, who enjoys huge popularity in Germany, will attend a conference and speak on human rights in four cities before travelling to the German capital on May 19.

In Berlin, he is scheduled to address the foreign affairs and human rights committees of the German parliament and deliver a speech at the landmark Brandenburg Gate.

On Thursday, the European representative of the Dalai Lama criticized the German foreign minister for having no time to see the Tibetan leader. "We think he was badly advised," Tseten Chhoekyapa said in Berlin.

Such a meeting would have been important for the Dalai Lama because of the dramatic situation in Tibet and the crackdown against people who rebelled against Chinese rule, he said.       The visit has also led to a war of words between Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partner.

The Dalai Lama is due to meet senior CDU members, among them the president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, and the premier of Hesse state, Roland Koch. But he won't be seeing leading politicians from Steinmeier's SPD.

The foreign minister publicly criticized Merkel's talks with the Tibetan leader last year as an unnecessary provocation of China. The meeting led to a chill in relations between Berlin and Beijing that ended only in January after intense German diplomatic efforts.

Analysts say Steinmeier believes that regular contacts with his Chinese counterparts and informal links to the Tibetans are the best way of dealing with the Tibet issue.

But Koch told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Steinmeier ran the risk that China would perceive "human rights is no longer as important an issue for the German government as it was when the chancellor received" the Dalai Lama.

SPD foreign policy expert Rolf Muetzenich accused the CDU of misusing Germany's Tibet policy to score political points at the expense of the foreign minister.
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