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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dalai Lama arrives for high-profile French visit

August 12, 2008

AFP
August 10, 2008

PARIS (AFP) -- The Dalai Lama arrived in France on Monday, a member
of his entourage said, ahead of a high-profile 12-day visit during
which the Tibetan spiritual guide abandoned plans to meet President
Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Nobel peace laureate was welcomed by religious leaders at Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport at around 6:00 am (0400 GMT) after arriving
from New Delhi.

His visit begins officially on Tuesday with the blessing of a
Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Evry, south of Paris.

The Dalai Lama, 73, will meet with several hundred French lawmakers
on Wednesday, but instead of Sarkozy, first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy
will attend the inauguration of a temple in southern France on August 22.

The rest of the Dalai Lama's stay will be devoted to religious
visits, in the Paris region and elsewhere, and a six-day teaching
cycle in the western city of Nantes.

Planned more than two years ago, his French visit turned suddenly
political after a Chinese crackdown on unrest in Tibet in March that
sparked international outrage in the run-up to the Olympics.

Plans for a meeting with Sarkozy were dropped at the Dalai Lama's
request to avoid angering China and setting back talks between
Tibetan and Chinese parties, Sarkozy's office and members of the
Buddhist leader's entourage said.

On Saturday, the Dalai Lama's French interpreter, Buddhist monk
Matthieu Ricard, told AFP a meeting during the Olympics would be seen
as a "provocation" by Beijing and "would only have led to a
toughening of the Chinese position."

Ricard also highlighted the "stunning contrast between the sumptuous
celebrations and the splendour of the Olympics, and the terror that
continues to reign... across historic Tibet."

Commentators have suggested that Paris persuaded the Dalai Lama not
to request a meeting to avoid straining its relations with Beijing.

Beijing, which accuses him of seeking independence for Tibet and
fomenting unrest to sabotage the Olympic Games, warned Paris that a
meeting would have "serious consequences" for bilateral relations.

France was already struggling to mend ties frayed by Sarkozy's
initial threat to boycott the opening of the Games over Tibet,
together with rowdy pro-Tibet protests during the passage of the
Olympic flame through the French capital.

The Paris incidents -- coupled with a decision by Paris city hall to
name the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen -- fuelled a months-long
diplomatic spat with Beijing and a wave of anti-French protests in China.

At the Games in Beijing, Sarkozy insisted France and China had turned
the page on their "misunderstanding," adding that he expected to meet
the Dalai Lama before the end of the year.

France is home to an estimated 770,000 Buddhists, according to the
French Buddhist union, three quarters of them of Asian origin.

The Dalai Lama has visited France a dozen times since 1982, meeting
once with the president, the late Francois Mitterrand, in 1993.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and officially "liberated" it
the following year. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959
following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The spiritual leader insists he wants autonomy and religious freedom
rather than independence for Tibet, and has sent Beijing his "prayers
and best wishes" for the success of the Olympics.
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