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Dalai Lama in Taiwan mass prayers, China reacts

September 2, 2009

September 1, 2009

The Dalai Lama Tuesday led thousands in prayer in
his first big public appearance since arriving in
Taiwan, as China signalled its ire by postponing
or scaling down planned events with the island.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader emerged in front
of a crowd of more than 10,000 in a stadium in
the southern city of Kaohsiung, underlining the
devout Buddhism of a large part of the population on the island.

The ceremony at the Kaohsiung Dome was focused on
the tragedy which struck last month when Typhoon
Morakot swept in from the Pacific, leaving at least 571 dead in its trail.

"My goal here is to seek blessing and ward off
misfortune for the typhoon victims," the Dalai Lama said.

The 74-year-old monk has said repeatedly that his
visit is non-political, but the trip has
nevertheless met strong opposition in China,
which sees him as a "splittist" bent on
independence for his Himalayan homeland.

 From Beijing's perspective, it only makes
matters worse that he is now touring an island
which it sees as part of its territory, although
it has been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

The Chinese view is supported by small but vocal
groups in Taiwan, and Tuesday morning protesters
favouring Taiwan unification with the mainland
appeared in Kaohsiung, engaging in shouting matches with Dalai Lama supporters.

However, few of the believers inside the
Kaohsiung Dome appeared to be thinking about politics.

"I'm very moved that the Dalai Lama has come to
Taiwan to visit the typhoon victims," said Vivien Cheng, a bank employee.

A Kaohsiung resident who was pushing his
wheelchair-bound wife had a very specific reason to be at the prayer.

"We're here to seek blessings before my wife's
cancer surgery," said the man, who declined to give his name.

The Dalai Lama's visit, his third to Taiwan,
comes at an awkward time for its China-friendly
government as it seeks to strengthen ties with
the ever more powerful economy on the mainland.

President Ma Ying-jeou and other elite members of
the ruling party have all indicated that they
have no plans to meet the Dalai Lama.

While this may ward off an even more vehement
reaction from Beijing, reports have emerged of
low-key Chinese sanctions over the visit.

A Chinese banking delegation, led by deputy
central bank governor Su Ning, was to have
arrived here Monday to attend a seminar sponsored
by the private Taipei Foundation of Finance, but
China abruptly postponed the visit.

"We got a call from them saying they could not
attend. They said they had to postpone the visit
due to technical reason and would not provide
details. But I think you and I know why,"
foundation chairman Sunny Chou told AFP.

Local media also reported that China would stay
away from the Saturday opening of the Taipei
Deaflympics, or the World Games for the Deaf.

"Beijing lashed out at Taiwan for allowing the
visit, but it has done so in a calibrated fashion
to spare Ma, who remains crucial to the Chinese
leadership's unification designs," the Taipei Times said in an editorial.
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