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China's Panchen Lama on religious freedom

March 29, 2009

March 28, 2009

WUXI, China (AFP) - Beijing's choice as the
second highest Tibetan spiritual figure told an
international Buddhist gathering on Saturday that
China now enjoys religious freedom and promotes world peace.

The 19-year-old Panchen Lama addressed China's
World Buddhist Forum in eastern Wuxi city on a
new national holiday marking 50 years since a
failed Tibetan uprising forced the Dalai Lama into exile.

"This event fully demonstrates that today's China
enjoys social harmony, stability and religious
freedom. It also shows China is a nation that
safeguards and promotes world peace," said the
Panchen Lama, who until recently was rarely seen.

More than 1,700 Buddhist monks and scholars from
about 50 countries and regions were participating
in the event, according to organisers.

However, notably absent was the exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace
Prize laureate and one of the world's most
respected Buddhists, who organisers said was not invited.

"He is a political fugitive and has done lots of
things... against his identity of being a
Buddhist," Ming Sheng, vice president of the
Buddhist Association of China told the official Xinhua news agency.

China says the Dalai Lama is a "splittist" intent
on winning independence for Tibet. He has said he
only seeks "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet within China.

The Pachen Lama has appeared increasingly in
public in recent weeks and experts say he is
increasingly being used by Beijing as a tool in
its propaganda offensive against the exiled Dalai Lama.

He was enthroned in a 1995 ceremony overseen by
the Communist Party, which had rejected a boy
selected by the Dalai Lama. But it is rare to see
images or photographs of him in Tibetan temples.

He is believed to have been educated in the
Chinese capital and has expressed loyalty to
Beijing, in stark contrast to the views of the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Earlier this month the Dalai Lama accused China
of having transformed Tibet into "a hell on
earth" and of killing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans during its rule.

The World Buddhist Forum was first held two years
ago, and was China's biggest religious meeting
since Communist rule began in 1949.

It is is seen as part of government efforts to
employ Buddhism as a way to promote stability.

This year's second forum is also being used an
olive branch to Taiwan as tensions between the
island and the mainland continue to ease.

The meeting was being held in two parts with two
days of discussion concluding in Wuxi on Sunday
and the forum then reconvening in Taipei on
Tuesday and Wednesday, the organisers said.

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