Dalai Lama begins 3-day spiritual visit to France

AP News
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Posted: Aug 13, 2011 3:20 PM
Dalai Lama begins 3-day spiritual visit to France

The Dalai Lama began a three-day spiritual visit to France on Saturday, saying that rapprochement with Beijing was possible and that if all rights are genuinely implemented "then it's in our interest to remain within" China.

The Dalai Lama, now 76, gave up his role as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile Aug. 8 when a Harvard-trained legal scholar Lobsang Sangay, was sworn in as the new official leader of his people's fight for freedom.

"Now, today I'm just a spiritual person" without political responsibilities, the Dalai Lama said in Toulouse on the sidelines of a talk on meditation that drew thousands of Buddhist followers and others.

But he quickly addressed politics in the brief remarks shown on BFM TV.

"If the Chinese government gives us meaningful autonomy, genuinely implements the rights mentioned in the constitution or ... papers regarding the rights of minorities, sincerely fully implements, then it's in our interest to remain within the People's Republic of China," he said.

China has for decades vilified the Dalai Lama, who fled to Dharmsala, in northern India in 1959, drawing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans who followed. Beijing has held nine fruitless rounds of negotiations with his representatives.

China contends he is a separatist trying to end Chinese rule over Tibet, but he insists he only seeks cultural autonomy.

The Dalai Lama is worshipped by most Tibetans as a near deity. In France, he is beloved by Buddhists and others. Thousands poured into the Zenith theater to listen to his teachings on meditation. An outdoor screen was being erected for a conference on the art of happiness.

The Dalai Lama announced in March that he would be giving up his political role as leader of the Tibetan exile movement, but remain as spiritual leader. He visited the U.S. in July and met with President Obama, which drew criticism from China. There were no official plans for a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.