Dalai Lama in Japan, Meets Former First Lady

April 10th 2008

Tokyo, Japan, 10 April 2008 (AFP) - The Dalai Lama on Thursday met with Japan's former first lady as he started his first foreign trip since protests in Tibet a month ago set off an international furore.

Tibet's spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in India for nearly 50 years, was on a short stopover in Japan on his way to Seattle, where he will start a series of lectures in the United States on spirituality.

The maroon-robed monk smiled, said hello and put his hands together in a traditional Buddhist greeting as several dozen supporters cheered him on at Narita airport near Tokyo. He was due later to give a press conference.

He met at a hotel with Akie Abe, the wife of Japan's former conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe who stepped down last year. But he is not expected to meet with officials, said the top spokesman for the Japanese government.

"Government officials have no plan to meet with him. I have also not heard that the Dalai Lama expressed a desire for a meeting," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters.

The Dalai Lama has frequently visited Japan, where his lectures on religious matters enjoy a wide following, and often transits through Narita on his way to North America.

But Japanese leaders, unlike many of their Western counterparts, have almost always refused to meet with the Dalai Lama and no officials were scheduled to meet with him on his stopover.

Japan has had uneasy ties with China due in part to the legacy of Japanese aggression in the 1930s. But Japan has been working to reconcile with China, its largest commercical partner, in a process launched by Abe in 2006.

The Dalai Lama's previously scheduled trip to North America comes amid high tension after the biggest demonstrations in nearly 20 years in Tibet against China's controversial rule.

Tibetan supporters have protested during the international torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, with the procession shortened on Wednesday in San Francisco.

"We want autonomy. We want China to talk to him immediately, otherwise there will be no solution," a supporter surnamed Ohara told Japanese media as he greeted the Dalai Lama.

China has regularly protested against countries that agree to visits by the globe-trotting Dalai Lama.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to split Tibet from China, whose troops overran the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan territory in 1951.

The Dalai Lama says he is seeking only autonomy within China and opposes the use of violence.

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