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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Quake survivors see hope in Dalai Lama visit request

April 22, 2010

JIEGU, China — Lhamo Yongsuo's black dress matches the mood in China's northwest quake-hit region where nearly 1,500 have died, but upon seeing the Dalai Lama's image the Tibetan woman brightens.

On the streets of Jiegu, the nearest big city to the epicentre of the 6.9 magnitude quake, conversation buzzed on Sunday about the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's request to Beijing to let him visit the disaster area.

"The Dalai Lama is our god. Yes, we would like to see him come back. It would bring us tremendous joy if the central government allows him to come home. The Dalai Lama is our sun," Yongsuo said as she bowed before his image.

Facing the photo of the Dalai Lama in the window of a taxi, two other women also bowed profusely with Yongsuo, who is in her fifties.

The Dalai Lama made his appeal on Saturday, saying he wanted to be with the earthquake victims in Qinghai, where he was born nearly 75 years ago. He has not set foot in China since 1959 after he fled a failed anti-Chinese uprising.

"To fulfil the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort," the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said in a statement issued from Dharamshala, his home in exile in northern India.

But at a makeshift soup kitchen, Zhenlin, who goes by one name and is one of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks at the forefront of relief efforts, said such a visit seemed almost impossible.

"I don't know if the central government will allow him to come. I don't think it's very likely. This is a very sensitive issue, but the Dalai Lama is our leader." he said, stirring rice for survivors at a makeshift soup kitchen.

Chinese authorities have branded the Nobel Peace Prize winner a separatist.

In contrast to the rest of China, his image is common in Jiegu. It appears mostly in taxis and car windows, but some shops also display his photos next to other Buddhist deities and Lamas.

Throughout the crisis, maroon-and-saffron robed monks have been reminders of religion's central role in the majority Tibetan region as they dug by hand in search of survivors amid pancaked traditional mud and wood homes.

They also led the grisly task of cremating hundreds of victims on Saturday as hopes dimmed of finding further survivors and rising fears of disease. The official toll rose to 1,484 dead and more than 300 missing.

The scale of the calamity and fears of disease forced a break from traditional Tibetan "sky burials" in which corpses are left on mountaintops to decompose or be consumed by vultures.

The Tibetan spiritual leader remains a sensitive issue for some Tibetan residents, who were reluctant to speak about him to an AFP reporter.

However, others spoke enthusiastically about the exiled monk.

"Everyone would like to see the Dalai Lama come here. He should come here," said 52-year-old Dorje, who also goes by one name, as he circled a local temple in a daily prayer ritual.

"The Dalai Lama was born in Qinghai," he said with a smile. "I think the government will allow him to come home."

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