Dalai Lama Arrives in Britain For 11-Day Visit

May 20th 2008

London, UK, 20 May 2008 (AFP) - The Dalai Lama began an 11-day visit to Britain Tuesday, including talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown who faces a delicate balancing act of supporting Tibetan rights while not offending China.

The Tibetan spiritual leader flew in from Germany, the first stop on a five-country tour, to meet Brown and the leader of the world's Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

But the meeting Friday, at Williams' official Lambeth Palace residence on the south bank of the River Thames opposite parliament, has been criticised because it is not taking place at Brown's Downing Street offices.

Both of Brown's immediate predecessors, Tony Blair and John Major, met the Dalai Lama in Downing Street.

Political opponents have accused Brown -- who is keen to boost trade and other ties with China -- of bowing to pressure from Beijing, which is unhappy at protests around the world in support of Tibetan pro-democracy campaigners.

The London leg of the Olympic torch relay on April 6 was marred by scuffles with police and Chinese security officials guarding the flame on its route around the British capital.

Brown, who has said he was "unhappy" about China's actions in Tibet in March, rejected criticisms that he was willing to "kowtow" to Beijing, saying the location of the talks was not as important as the substance.

"All issues of substance" on the situation in Tibet were on the table and he would press the Dalai Lama to help set up talks between the Chinese government and Tibetans, he told parliament on May 14.

The Dalai Lama's visit, which ends May 30, follows a similar pattern to his five-city German tour, with talks on human rights and peace as well as meetings with lawmakers.

On Tuesday, he received an honorary degree from London Metropolitan University in recognition of his "outstanding achievements in promoting peace globally as well as for his inspirational spiritual leadership."

Dressed in a blue academic gown and tassled soft cap over his orange robes, he thanked his audience in English, saying he was "very happy and very proud" to receive the award and "extremely happy to be here once more" in Britain.

The 72-year-old is to meet lawmakers Wednesday and gives evidence Thursday to a parliamentary oversight committee on foreign affairs.

The committee said he is to be asked about China's human rights record in Tibet, including Beijing's military crackdown there in March.

Speeches and talks are also scheduled in Nottingham, east central England, and the university city of Oxford.

 

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