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Dalai Lama meets Brown in closely watched talks

May 24, 2008

AFP
May 23, 2008

LONDON (AFP) -- The Dalai Lama held closed-door talks Friday with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has faced a diplomatic balancing act between backing Tibetan rights and not offending Beijing.

The meeting -- held not in Brown's Downing Street office, but at a clerical residence nearby -- was the most contentious part of an 11-day visit to Britain by the Tibetan spiritual leader, who is on a five-nation tour.

Neither Brown nor the 72-year-old Buddhist monk made any comment as they arrived at Lambeth Palace, the official office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican church.

Small groups of demonstrators gathered outside, including pro-Beijing supporters and members of the Western Shugden Society, a Buddhist group which opposes the Dalai Lama.

Both of Brown's immediate predecessors, Tony Blair and John Major, met with the Dalai Lama in the prime minister's Downing Street offices. Brown's decision not to do so has drawn criticism.

Brown's aides have insisted he is holding talks with the 72-year-old Buddhist monk as a spiritual leader, and not as a political figure.

Speaking to the House of Commons foreign affairs committee on Thursday, the Dalai Lama played down the controversy over his meeting with Brown.

But asked if Britain was doing enough to support Tibet, he replied: "I think not enough."

Brown, who said in March he was "unhappy" about China's actions in Tibet, has rejected criticisms that he was willing to "kowtow" to Beijing, saying the location of the talks was not as important as the substance.

The Dalai Lama is in Britain until May 30, with talks on human rights and peace and meetings with lawmakers a part of his schedule. The meeting with Brown however, is likely to be the most closely watched.

On Thursday, demonstrators targeted the Dalai Lama as supporters and critics rallied outside the Royal Albert Hall, where he made his first public address since arriving in London.

Among the protestors were pro-China demonstrators -- and members of the Western Shugden Society, a Buddhist group who were protesting the 1996 decision by the Dalai Lama to outlaw their worship of a particular deity.

In all there were more than 1,000 protestors, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

In his speech, the Dalai Lama welcomed encouraging signs of openness from China in its handling of this month's earthquake disaster, but said Beijing lacked the moral authority of a true superpower.

He warned that China's "ruthless suppression" in Tibet would only fan calls for independence, which he does not back.

The spiritual leader agreed that the West needed good economic ties with China as an emerging superpower.

He later met Britain's heir to the throne Prince Charles for talks about "spiritual matters" at his Clarence House residence. The Dalai Lama planted a tree there and prayed before the talks began.
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