India limits media on contentious Dalai Lama trip

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 4:28 AM

Indian officials clamped down Monday on journalists covering the Dalai Lama's trip to a disputed border area in an apparent effort to minimize tensions with neighboring China.

China has protested the Tibetan spiritual leader's weeklong visit to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh that began Sunday after months of rising friction between India and China.

The Dalai Lama was holding prayer meetings and teaching sessions with adherents in the Himalayan town of Tawang, near the frontier with Chinese-controlled Tibet.

India refused to allow foreign journalists to travel to Tawang to cover the trip and tried to keep local reporters away from the Dalai Lama on Sunday.

As the Dalai Lama inaugurated a hospital wing in Tawang on Monday, Leki Phuntso, a media official with the state government, told waiting reporters they were "requested" not to ask any questions.

China had demanded India call off the trip, but India said the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile here since 1959, was an honored guest and free to visit any part of the country.

On the first day of his visit Sunday, the Tibetan leader told reporters who managed to get near him that Beijing's claims that his visit was anti-China were "baseless."

On Monday, however, he was surrounded by a tight security cordon that made asking questions impossible.

Vishnu Prakash, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail for comment.

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After spending the first day of his visit at the Tawang monastery, the Dalai Lama on Monday began addressing a series of public teaching sessions from a tiny Buddhist temple overlooking a vast, dusty playground that has been converted into an arena of sorts to accommodate the more than 25,000 expected pilgrims.

The area was packed with pilgrims from across India, hundreds who had trekked for days from neighboring Bhutan and a handful of Westerners.

"I feel absolutely honored to be here," said Belize Lane, a 20-year-old student from San Francisco, California. "It's a life changing moment."