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British PM pledges support for Tibet-China process

May 25, 2008

by Guy Jackson
AFP
May 23, 2008

Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged Britain's support Friday for rapprochement between Tibet and Beijing, as the Dalai Lama warned violence could resume if talks between the parties failed.

Brown's office said he held "warm and constructive" discussions with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in a 30-minute meeting at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury's official residence in London.

The talks were the most contentious engagement of the Dalai Lama's 11-day visit to Britain.

Brown, who is keen to boost trade and other links with China, has been criticised for "kow-towing" to Beijing by not receiving him in the prime minister's Downing Street office, as his predecessors Tony Blair and John Major did.

China, which accuses the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner of fomenting secessionist unrest in the Himalayan region, has previously said it was "seriously concerned" about the meeting with Brown.

A Downing Street spokesman said the "warm and constructive" talks covered a range of issues, "including the importance of the dialogue between Dalai Lama's representatives and the Chinese authorities and the PM's strong commitment to the human rights of the Tibetan people.

"The PM expressed his determination to work with both sides to encourage reconciliation."

The Dalai Lama has criss-crossed the world in recent weeks following China's crackdown on demonstrations in Tibet in March, which his government-in-exile says left more than 200 people dead, although the figure is impossible to verify.

In an interview with AFP on Friday, he said he feared violence could flare up in Tibet again if talks between his representatives and Beijing collapse.

"Demonstrations I think will happen, from our past experience. Serious demonstrations, not only demonstrations but also involving violence," he said, when asked if he feared a resurgence of unrest.

The Dalai Lama said he believed a seventh round of negotiations between his representatives and China would take place in Beijing on June 11.

The meeting with Brown was "good, very good," the Buddhist monk told AFP.

"He showed genuine concerns and also he repeated the three points the Chinese prime minister has mentioned: not seeking independence, no violence and then (support for) the Olympics," the Dalai Lama said, saying he supported those points as a basis for the talks.

He said the British government were "willing to help" facilitate "meaningful or constructive dialogue" with Beijing.

The Downing Street spokesman said the pair also discussed the aftermath of the earthquake in Sichuan "and the steps being taken by the UK to assist the people of western China."

Brown insisted beforehand he was meeting the 72-year-old Buddhist cleric in his capacity as a spiritual leader, defending the decision to hold talks at Lambeth Palace, where Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, is based.

The Dalai Lama said the location was of "no concern, no interest" and Brown did not raise the point. "The important thing is meeting," he said.

The Tibetan said his impression of Brown was "good", adding: "He is naturally a busy man so he looked a little bit tired."

Brown's governing Labour Party suffered a stinging loss of a parliamentary seat in a by-election held Thursday.

Asked this week if Britain was doing enough to support Tibet, the Dalai Lama replied: "I think not enough."

He told AFP he did not repeat that claim before Brown, saying: "I know the limitations. It's understandable."

Small groups of demonstrators protested outside Friday's meeting, including pro-China supporters and members of a Buddhist group which accuses the Dalai Lama of stifling their freedom of worship.

The Dalai Lama is in Britain until May 30, with talks on human rights and peace and meetings with lawmakers remaining on his schedule.
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