By Abhishek Madhukar
DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama urged Tibetans to remain united on Friday, telling an audience gathered for the swearing-in of his exiled people's new leader that they must avoid the schisms that had damaged other religions.
The Buddhist spiritual leader criticized an election campaign to elect a political leader that descended into bitter personal rivalries, eclipsing any discussion about how to persuade China to grant Tibet autonomy.
"If you really consider me as your friend, then please be united irrespective of your region or religious lineage," he told a crowd of about 2,000 monks and devotees at his temple in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, where the exiled community is based.
Exiled Tibetans re-elected Lobsang Sangay as their political leader last month, the second such election since the Dalai Lama devolved political power in 2011 in order to let a political leader further his people's cause.
Sangay said at the ceremony, where traditional Tibetan artists sang their national anthem, that he and his rivals were sorry for failing to live up to Tibetan traditions of humility and good conduct.
The Dalai Lama and Sangay back the so-called middle way approach under which they want China to grant Tibet autonomy within China, rather than outright independence.
Formal negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives ended in 2010, and the stalemate since has cast a pall over an exiled community increasingly powerless about what to do next.
China, which does not recognize Sangay's self-proclaimed government in exile, describes the incorporation of Tibet into China's territory in 1951 as a "peaceful liberation". It says the region already enjoys genuine autonomy.
Sangay, a Harvard-educated lawyer, has pledged to press the international community to renew its interest in his people's plight, as China's growing economic might slowly pushes the Tibetan cause out of the limelight.
The Dalai Lama, 80, has been denied audiences with several world leaders in recent years, including the Pope.
(Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Robert Birsel)