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Dalai Lama's government positive about talks with Chinese officials

May 5, 2008

BEIJING 2008-05-03 (AP) - The Dalai Lama's government said it was
hopeful of a positive outcome from upcoming talks with Chinese
officials, but cautioned Saturday not to expect too much from the first
meeting between the two sides since violent anti-government protests
erupted in Tibet.

Talks were scheduled to begin Sunday and last for a day or two in the
southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which neighbors Hong Kong, said Prime
Minister Samdhong Rinpoche of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in
Dharmsala, India.

«We are positive that something good will come out of it,» Samdhong
Rinpoche told The Associated Press.

Two of the Dalai Lama's representatives planned to push for peace in
Tibetan areas of China and address Beijing's accusations that the
spiritual leader has been masterminding the recent unrest, he told a
public rally in Dharmsala.

But Samdhong Rinpoche added afterward: «Our hopes are high, but this is
just a small step in a long process.

The Tibetan government-in-exile has called the meetings «informal talks
with representatives of the Chinese leadership.

Thubten Samphal, a spokesman for the exile government, has said talks
would not be formal because «we cannot do business as usual when the
situation in Tibet is so grave.

China has been accused of heavy-handed tactics in quelling protests in
Tibet and other Tibetan areas of western China. Some experts believe
Beijing agreed to meet with the Dalai Lama's envoys to ease
international criticism ahead of the Olympics, which begin in August.

China says 22 people died in violence in Tibet's capital of Lhasa in
March, while overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have
been killed in protests and the security crackdown.

China's entirely state-run media did not mention the meeting in
Shenzhen. However, two articles published Saturday repeated Beijing's
argument that the Dalai Lama and his supporters organized the riots with
the aim of breaking the far western Himalayan region of Tibet away from
Chinese rule.

«The hope of realizing Tibetan independence by the Dalai clique has
become more and more dim. When their hopes shattered, the Dalai clique
launched bloody violence, this was their last act of madness,» the Tibet
Daily said.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising in 1959, says he
is seeking meaningful autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from
Chinese rule. He has decried «cultural genocide» in his homeland, which
has a unique Buddhist tradition distinct from the rest of China.

The Dalai Lama is deeply revered by Tibetans. Men in that position have
traditionally been regarded as both the spiritual and political leader
of Tibetan Buddhists.

A front-page story in the overseas edition of People's Daily, the
Communist Party mouthpiece, denied the Tibetan issue was related to
religion, saying «the religious issue is a card played by the Dalai
clique for gaining the sympathy from some people.

While the security presence in Lhasa has generally decreased, large
numbers of troops continue to fill hotels, courtyards, government
buildings and camps in and around the city, two foreigners living in
Tibet said in written accounts given to The Associated Press in recent days.

The square outside Lhasa's main temple _ and a focal point for the March
protests and riot _ remains closed and under heavy guard, according to
the foreigners, who requested anonymity for fear that the government
would deport them.

City officials are apparently readying Lhasa to host the Olympic torch,
which is scheduled to stop there June 20-21. The foreigners said workers
were repairing roadways that had been blackened by cars burned in the
riots and were replacing sidewalks where stones were ripped out by
rioters and thrown at shops and people.

Thubten Samphal, the exiled government's spokesman, has said the Dalai
Lama's envoys will meet with the head of China's United Front Work
Department during their visit.

The department is designed to deal with influential people in groups
outside of China's Communist Party and sway them into taking the party's
side. It is directly under the Communist Party's central committee and
often deals with issues related to Tibet and Taiwan.

The United Front Work Department hosted earlier meetings between the two
sides. China and representatives of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile
held six rounds of inconclusive talks that foundered in 2006.

Since the last talks, the department has gained a new boss, Du Qinglin,
a former minister of agriculture who more recently ran Sichuan province,
where there is a large Tibetan population.

The department has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for
comment Saturday. No other Chinese officials were available for comment
Saturday, a national holiday in China.

Associated Press writer Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India contributed
to this story.
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