Dalai Lama Urges Olympics Respect

London, UK, 21 May 2008 (BBC News) – The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, has appealed for Tibetans not to protest during the Olympic Torch visit to the region.

Pro-Tibet protests had erupted at many sites along the torch’s worldwide tour ahead of the August Games in Beijing.

Speaking in London, the leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile said he was fully supportive of the Games and therefore the torch.

He is on a 10-day visit to London, which has provoked some controversy.

‘Wants it both ways’

The torch is due to visit Lhasa on 20-21 June.

After incidents in London and Paris in which pro-Tibetan protesters attempted to disrupt the torch’s progress, the Dalai Lama said he had appealed to Tibetans in San Francisco – the following stop – not to disrupt the visit.

And he said: “I appeal particularly to inside Tibet to not disturb… the torch when they visit.

“I made clear right from the beginning we fully support Olympic Games. The Olympic Torch is part of that. We must respect, we must protect that.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been criticised for not inviting the Dalai Lama to Downing Street when he meets him on Friday.

He will meet him instead at Lambeth Palace, with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Critics have said that the UK government is attempting to appease Beijing by emphasising the Dalai Lama’s spiritual rather than his political role.

Ex-Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “Treating the Dalai Lama as only a religious leader simply ignores the reality.

“There is no reason why he should not be received at No 10.”

The PM wanted it both ways, “to see him and not offend the Chinese”, he said.

The Dalai Lama is also due to meet Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Human rights

The Dalai Lama earlier said his UK visit was “non-political”.

After a private address to members of both Houses of Parliament, he told a press conference: “Basically my visit is non-political. The media politicises.

“Of course, during our meeting I [will] express my appreciation that the prime minister is showing genuine concern for Tibet – so I want to express my thanks.”

However, when asked about his message for the British government over its relationship with China, he said:

“The economy is important, but human values are more important. Human issues like human rights.

“While you are making close relationship in the business field, there is no point in forgetting about principles. I think that is very important.”

Mr Brown’s spokesman told reporters at a regular daily briefing: “As far as we are concerned, the issue here is the substance of the meeting and the fact that the meeting is taking place at all.

“On the previous two occasions the Dalai Lama came to the UK, he didn’t meet the then-prime minister at all.”

Mr Brown will raise the issue of Tibetan human rights in China during the private meeting, it is understood.

The Dalai Lama is expected to make a speech at the Albert Hall on Thursday. Buddhist protesters are expected to target this, as well as his meeting with Mr Brown.

Long-standing dispute

The protests will be staged by the Western Shugden Society, which is calling for freedom to worship 17th Century monk Dorje Shugden.

The Dalai Lama has rejected worship of Dorje Shugden, saying it is an evil force.

Another group, Avaaz, is asking activists to join a three-mile “human chain handshake” on Thursday, ending outside the Chinese Embassy, to promote dialogue between China and Tibet.

China and Tibet have long disagreed over the status of Tibet, and China sent troops into the region to enforce a territorial claim in 1950.

Anti-China protests led by Buddhist monks began in the capital Lhasa on 10 March this year and gradually escalated into rioting.

China says at least 19 people were killed by the rioters, but Tibetan exiles say dozens of people were killed by the Chinese security forces as they moved to quell the unrest.

Beijing says the Dalai Lama incited the violence, which he denies. He accuses the Chinese government of human rights abuses.

China says Tibet has officially been part of the Chinese nation since the mid-13th Century and so should continue to be ruled by Beijing.

Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.