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Bush throws down gauntlet to China with Dalai Lama meeting

October 12, 2007

WASHINGTON, October 10, 2007 (AFP) — US President George W. Bush will
risk angering China by attending a ceremony next week to award a
Congress medal to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, at the
bastion of American democracy.

Barely a month after China strongly protested German Chancellor Angela
Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama, the White House said Wednesday
that Bush and his wife will participate in the special landmark event
for the 72-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader at the Capitol building
next Wednesday.

"The president and Mrs Laura Bush will attend the ceremony," national
security council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told AFP.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will award the Congressional Gold Medal, the
highest civilian honor the legislature can bestow, to the Dalai Lama,
her office said.

A bill to award the medal won the support of more than two thirds of
members of both the Senate and House of Representatives last year before
it was signed into law by Bush.

The award was in recognition of the Buddhist spiritual leader's advocacy
of religious harmony, non-violence, and human rights and his efforts to
find a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue through dialogue with the
Chinese leadership, according to lawmakers.

The medal has also been given to such diverse individuals as Sir Winston
Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

This will be the first time that a sitting US president will appear with
the Dalai Lama in a public event, a move that could anger China,
diplomats said.

China reacted angrily when the US Congress announced the award last year.

The award "has sent very serious, wrong signals to the Tibetan
independence forces, seriously interfered into China's internal affairs
and damaged China-US relations," Beijing said then.

The ceremony in Washington comes just after Merkel's September 23
meeting with the Dalai Lama despite harsh warnings from Beijing, which
warned Germany after the talks that bilateral ties had been damaged.

Merkel also gave support to the Dalai Lama's quest for greater cultural
autonomy for his homeland.

Aside from Merkel, the Dalai Lama also met Austrian Chancellor Alfred
Gusenbauer last month and was received by Australian Prime Minister John
Howard in June. He is scheduled to meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen
Harper this month.

"We are seeing a trend in which world leaders are becoming more aware
that it is in their interest to meet the Dalai Lama despite China's
objections because he is after all one of the world's leaders," said
Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet.

Following the ceremony, the Congress has agreed to allow Dalai Lama to
address a large crowd of well wishers on the West Lawn of the Capitol.

Bush, known for his religious convictions, has been frank with China on
human rights, particularly religious freedom, and strongly supports the
idea of a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing.

He had met the Dalai Lama several times at the White House residence
rather than the offices, apparently to avoid the full wrath of China.

China has ruled Tibet since sending troops in to "liberate" the
Himalayan region in 1950.

The Dalai Lama fled to India following a failed uprising in 1959 after
Beijing crushed an anti-Chinese uprising in Lhasa.

The Tibetan leader lives in the northern hill town of Dharamsala, which
is also the seat of his government in exile.

Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a political exile bent on establishing
an independent Tibet, an accusation the 1989 Nobel Peace price winner
has repeatedly denied.

He instead says he only wants greater autonomy and respect for Tibetan
culture and religion

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