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China defends rules on reincarnation of Tibet monks

January 25, 2008

(Adds comment from Dalai Lama to British TV, paragraphs 7-8)

BEIJING, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A senior Tibetan lama and Chinese government
advisers have spoken out in defence of contentious rules apparently
aimed at empowering China to name the next Dalai Lama in the event
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader dies.

China's State Administration of Religious Affairs issued regulations in
July banning reincarnations of "living Buddhas", or holy monks, that
fail to seek government approval, ostensibly to manipulate the
centuries-old practice and legitimise future appointments by the atheist
Communist Party.

Tubdain Kaizhub, himself a living Buddha and vice-chairman of Tibet's
Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the regional
parliament, affirmed the regulations on Monday, China's official Xinhua
news agency said in an overnight report.

Xinhua quoted Soi'ham Rinzin, a member of the advisory body, as saying
the 14th Dalai Lama ignored religious ritual and historical convention
to unilaterally decide reincarnations, disturbing religious order.

The Dalai Lama, 72, fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive
uprising against Communist rule, but remains the single most important
influence in Tibetan life.

China's presence in Tibet has become yet more controversial ahead of
this year's Beijing Olympics, which activists hope to use to draw global
attention to the plight of the region.

The Dalai Lama told Britain's ITV in an interview that Tibet supporters
should protest peacefully in China during the Olympics to highlight
their cause, the Free Tibet Group said in a statement.

"(In) the eyes of millions of Chinese I think (it) worthwhile to remind
them there's a problem. That I think is very important," the group
quoted him as saying.
Critics say China continues to repress Tibetans' religious aspirations,
especially their veneration for the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize
winner whom China denounces as a "separatist".

The new rules, which went into force on Sept. 1, bar any Buddhist monk
living outside China from seeking reincarnation for himself or
recognising a "living Buddha".

Reincarnations of about 1,000 living Buddhas have been approved in Tibet
and Tibetan populated areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan since
1991, according to a government Web site.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama and China's Communist authorities chose rival
reincarnations of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989. The Panchen
Lama is the second-highest figure in Tibet's spiritual hierarchy.

The boy anointed by the Dalai Lama, then aged 6, swiftly disappeared
from public view, prompting international rights groups to call him the
"world's youngest political prisoner". (Reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim,
additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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