Dalai Lama Says Not Seeking Independence From China

Bochum, Germany, 16 May 2008 (AFP) – The Dalai Lama insisted Friday he is not seeking independence for Tibet, as he pressed ahead with a five-country Western tour two months after deadly violence erupted in his homeland.

“We want to live in peace with our Chinese brothers and sisters,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told a news conference in the western city of Bochum on the second day of a visit to Germany.

“We are not seeking independence,” but merely greater autonomy and more respect for Tibet culture, religion and language, he said.

The Nobel peace prize winner said that although he was opposed to all forms of violence he admitted that there were some in Tibet who favoured a different course.

After Germany the 72 year-old will go to Britain, Australia, the United States and France in a three-month tour that will keep the issue of Tibet in the headlines in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.

On Thursday, the Dalai Lama accused China of “suppression” through its military crackdown on violent protests in the Himalayan region in March that Tibetan leaders say left more than 200 people dead.

He said that it was in China’s best interest to improve relations with the Tibetans but that its policy had created resentment well beyond Tibet’s borders.

China’s reaction to the Tibet unrest drew international condemnation and heaped pressure on Beijing ahead of the Olympics, with pro-Tibet activists disrupting the global relay of the Olympic torch.

Beijing, which is adamant Tibet is part of China, says Tibetan “rioters” and “insurgents” killed 21 people and accused the Dalai Lama of being behind the violence and fomenting trouble ahead of the Olympics.

Amid international diplomatic pressure, representatives of the Dalai Lama held talks this month with China to try to defuse tensions.

In Germany the Dalai Lama will meet neither Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in Latin America, nor Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, nor President Horst Koehler.

Critics accused the German government, which has designated Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul to meet the 72 year-old, of appeasing China after a chill in relations caused by Merkel receiving him last year.

The schedule this time has left neither side happy, with the Dalai Lama’s representative in Europe branding Steinmeier’s decision not to meet him “an unhappy one” and China protesting about Monday’s meeting with Wieczorek-Zeul.

Wieczorek-Zeul defended on Friday her decision to meet him, telling Spiegel Online it was her job to meet religious leaders and to promote inter-faith dialogue.

According to Spiegel, Steinmeier — who has been active in pressing for dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama — is worried that the meeting with Wieczorek-Zeul will harm relations between Germany and China.

A foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday that he had not been informed in advance about the meeting.

“It is I that decide whom I meet. I do not need permission to do so,” Wieczorek-Zeul protested to the magazine.

A report in the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Friday said that Merkel had personally intervened to ensure that Wieczorek-Zeul met the Dalai Lama, but a government spokesman denied that this was the case.

After arriving in Germany the Dalai Lama expressed his condolences for those killed in this week’s earthquake in China. He also held talks with the premiers of two of Germany’s 16 states and with the speaker of the German parliament.

In Bochum on Friday afternoon around 3,000 people gathered to hear him give a speech on human rights and globalisation.

“This should be the century of peace and dialogue,” he told the cheering crowd, calling for all nuclear weapons to be scrapped and for the world to be demilitarised.

He added that globalisation must be on the wrong path when it leads to rising food prices, and called for harmony between the world’s religions.

He was due to speak in Moenchengladbach on Saturday, in Nuremberg and Bamberg on Sunday and at the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Monday.

He is also due to address a parliamentary foreign affairs committee, an event that has prompted objections from China, according to the head of the committee Ruprecht Polenz.