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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dalai Lama's latest visit to be very public and very political

October 29, 2007

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA, 26 October - As far as photo opportunities rank, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's very public meeting Monday with the Dalai Lama will be one of his government's most important and politically charged.

Harper joins a growing group of western leaders who have deliberately chosen to greet the revered Tibetan spiritual leader in official venues, ignoring the objections of the Chinese government.

Beijing looks on the Dalai Lama a troublemaking separatist. China declared sovereignty over Tibet in 1951, and has since been accused of rampant human rights abuses, including a crackdown on Tibetan culture,

language and Buddhist religious practices.

The 72-year-old monk fled his homeland in 1959 following the collapse of a Tibetan uprising. He lives in exile in northern India.

The Dalai Lama's first stop in the capital will be Sunday, when he delivers a public speech in a downtown arena. On Monday morning, he'll head to government offices in Gatineau, Que. to meet Jason Kenney,

secretary of state for multiculturalism, followed by a news conference. Later, he will speak with Harper in his Parliament Hill office, and participate in a reception with parliamentarians.

He is to visit Governor General Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall that afternoon. He meets opposition politicians at a downtown hotel on Tuesday.

Last week, U.S. President George Bush caused waves with China when he held a much heralded public meeting with the Dalai Lama and awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal. German Chancellor Angela

Merkel and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have made similar gestures in recent months.

In the past, leaders met the Tibetan leader, but avoided official trappings. In 2004, Paul Martin became the first Canadian prime minister to meet him, but did so at the home of a Roman Catholic archbishop to

emphasize the man's religious aspect.

"I think what some of these countries are now seeing is that the changes that were promised in China have not happened at a fast enough rate, and that the Dalai Lama's travels are an opportunity for those countries to

continue the exertion on China for democratic reform and better protection of human rights," said Dermod Travis, executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee.

The Conservatives have made no bones about their position on human rights in China, and have clashed with the Chinese officials on a number of issues since taking power in January 2006. Some important figures in

Harper's government are long-time supporters of Tibetan autonomy, including Kenney and Kenney's chief of staff, Tenzin Khangsal, himself a Tibetan Canadian and former head of the Canada Tibet Committee.

It was the Conservatives who moved the Commons motion in June 2006 that granted the Dalai Lama honorary Canadian citizenship.

Tory Senator Con di Nino has played an instrumental role in organizing this latest Canadian visit, as co-chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet.

Di Nino first developed his passion for the issue of human rights in Tibet in 1990, while he was a banker on an adventure trek through the Himalayas. He describes a life-altering moment in the quiet of a Tibetan

monastery, when a frightened young boy placed a note in his hand with a plea for help.

Di Nino reassured the boy he was on his side by handing him a picture of the Dalai Lama, contraband material in Tibet.

"Whoever this young man was he had taken a tremendous risk. He was just like many others trying to send a message out to the world," Di Nino recalls.

"It's got to be one of the most wonderful moments of my life, the incredible unspoken message between us."

Di Nino says he is not worried by the very vocal objections of the Chinese government and its ambassador in Canada to the public meetings with the Dalai Lama. He emphasizes that neither the Dalai Lama nor his

allies are suggesting China leave Tibet, only that it be given autonomy with the requisite religious and cultural freedoms.

"China is not looking very good in all this. They're coming across as bullies. China can send out these press releases, but I don't believe they'll stop doing business with all these countries."
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