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Vote to be held for next Tibet leader

November 29, 2007

By GAVIN RABINOWITZ, Associated Press WriterTue Nov 27, 6:24 AM ET

The Dalai Lama said Tuesday the Tibetan people will hold a referendum
before he dies to decide whether a new system of leadership is necessary
for the Himalayan people.

Just what form the referendum will take was not immediately clear, but
he proposed what could be a major change in the centuries-old system to
choose the spiritual and political head of the Tibetans.

"If people feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama is still
necessary, it will continue," he told reporters during a gathering of
religious leaders from around the world in this northern Indian city.

"When my physical condition becomes weak, then serious preparations (for
the referendum) should happen," said the 72-year-old exiled Tibetan leader.

The Dalai Lama said the vote would be held among all traditional Tibetan
Buddhists along the Himalayan range and into Mongolia.

China condemned the statement, saying a referendum would be a breach of
established religious practice.

For centuries, the search for the reincarnation of religious leaders,
known as lamas — including the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual head — has
been carried out by Tibetan monks following the leaders' deaths.

In its response, China's Foreign Ministry defended the traditional practice.

"The Dalai Lama's statement is in blatant violation of religious
practice and historical procedure," the ministry said in a statement
faxed to The Associated Press.

But a recent order by China that Beijing must approve all lama
appointments has led to concerns that the central government may
forcibly select a pro-Beijing leader once the current popular Dalai Lama
is dead.

Concerns over succession were also stirred following the death in 1989
of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest ranking figure
who serves the ceremonial role of the Dalai Lama's teacher.

China refused to recognize a boy named by the Dalai Lama, instead
installing its own pick, Gyaltsen Norbu, now 16, as the 11th Panchen
Lama in 1995. The boy recognized by the Dalai Lama, Gendun Choekyi
Nyima, now 18, disappeared soon afterward and has reportedly been in
Chinese custody since. China says he is living a normal life but has
given no details.

China has ruled Tibet with a heavy hand since its Communist-led forces
invaded in 1951, and it has accused the Dalai Lama of defying its
sovereignty by pushing for Tibetan independence.

The Dalai Lama says he wants "real autonomy" for Tibet, not
independence. He has lived with followers in exile in India since
fleeing Chinese soldiers in 1959.

___

Associated Press Writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to
this report.
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