By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
ZURICH (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama urged young Swiss Tibetans on Friday to maintain their cultural heritage half a century after many of their grandparents left home.
With 6,500 members, the Tibetan community in Switzerland and Liechtenstein is thought to be Europe's largest.
"This is our future generation of Tibetans," the Nobel Peace Prize-winning spiritual leader said of the children, dressed in traditional clothes, playing around a crowd assembled in an indoor arena. "After I'm gone, these are the ones who will preserve the Tibetan identity."
In front of an audience of 9,000, many of them Swiss-Tibetans, 26 community representatives made offerings to the 81-year-old Buddhist monk during an official tenshuk long-life ceremony.
"We see it as a duty to give something back and to preserve our rich culture," co-organizer Diky Garne told Reuters of the event put on by the Tibetan community in Switzerland and neighboring Liechtenstein.
The earliest Tibetan settlers arrived in Switzerland in the 1960s, and Garne said the community was preparing to pass its heritage on to a third generation born and raised in the country, many of whose parents had also never seen Tibet.
"You should have the courage and determination to support the Tibetan cause," the Dalai Lama told the children. "For that you need to understand the richness of the Tibetan culture."
Approximately 128,000 Tibetans live in exile around the world - according to an estimate based on a 2009 census by the Central Tibetan Administration, a body based in Dharamsala in India. Other estimates have placed the number higher.
Thousands of Tibetans fled into Nepal and India after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Beijing says its Communist troops peacefully liberated Tibet in 1950 and regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist.
Many Tibetans in exile have fought for a greater say within China, but Beijing says the region already has autonomy and that the exiled groups are trying to split the country.
(Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Dominic Evans)