February 10, 2006

Chinese pilgrims attend prayer meeting by Dalai Lama

By Lindsay Beck and Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - Thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from
Tibet and China attended a prayer meeting alongside the
region's exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, in India last month
in a rare mingling of Chinese nationals with one of Beijing's

Beijing and envoys of the Dalai Lama, who fled his
Himalayan homeland to India after an abortive uprising against
Chinese rule in 1959, have held four meetings in the past three
years as part of a delicate and slow-moving process of

Tibet's government-in-exile in Dharamsala said on Friday
about 200 ethnic Chinese and up to 10,000 Tibetans attended the
Kalachakra, an initiation ceremony for Buddhists, in Amravati,
south India, last month.

"Certainly we believe that this time we have a huge number
of Tibetan people who came all the way from Tibet," Jigme
Tsultrim, at the press office of government-in-exile, told

"They (Chinese authorities) are allowing and giving more
and more flexibility in issuing these travel documents," he

It was not clear why so many were allowed to go, but easing
restrictions on Tibetans traveling for the ceremony could be a
confidence-building measure ahead of another round of dialogue,
which sources say could happen early this year.


There were no comparative figures available, albeit curbs
on Chinese nationals traveling to India were eased only in

"The Chinese government neither encourages nor bans people
from attending," said Luorong Zhandui, of China Tibet Research
Center, a government think-tank.

A spokesman for the State Religious Affairs Bureau said he
had no knowledge of it but said overseas-bound pilgrims need to
go through official procedures.

Despite the easing of the curbs, most Tibetans loyal to the
Dalai Lama, instead of Beijing, have been denied passports.

Many Tibetans dissenting of Chinese rule, including monks
and nuns, have been jailed or fled to India, where the Dalai
Lama has lived in exile for almost five decades. Chinese
Communist troops marched into the remote, mountainous Tibet in

China has been indifferent to criticism of human rights
abuses in Tibet and insists that religious freedom is enshrined
in its constitution.

The Dalai Lama has been branded a traitor by Beijing but he
is still revered in Tibet despite a government system that
enforces political study to keep monasteries in check.

He said last November confidence-building talks between
Tibetans and China had done little to ease a "very repressive"
atmosphere in Tibet.


But at the ceremony, the Dalai Lama told an audience,
including followers from China, that he hoped to return to his
homeland one day and denied any dreams for independence.

"His Holiness said that he hoped he and the Tibetans would
help the Chinese in China when he and Tibetan refugees return
to Tibet," the government-in-exile said on its Web site
(www.tibet.com). He also talked about "his middle-way approach
and his willingness to stay within the constitutional framework
of the People's Republic of China without seeking

His addresses on the subject were the first many from China
-- whose media on Tibet is tightly controlled -- had heard of
the dialogue process, said Kate Saunders, of International
Campaign for Tibet.

The 11-day event moved many to tears as they knelt and
prayed with clasped hands, said one pilgrim who requested

Some pilgrims brought suitcases of personal belongings of
family members who could not make it for the Dalai Lama to
bless, the pilgrim said.

China has more than 100 million Buddhists and about 7.6
million practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, official figures

China, ruled by the atheist Communist Party since 1949,
also allows its Muslims to make annual pilgrimages to Mecca.

(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng)