July 4, 2006

China says Dalai Lama seeks only independence

LHASA, China (Reuters) - Days after China bound itself
closer to Tibet with a new railway, a senior official accused
the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled spiritual leader, of
seeking to split China and play politics with religion.

Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibetan government which
rules the region under Beijing's close watch, said the Dalai
Lama's claim that he sought only greater autonomy for the
mountain-bound region was insincere.

"So far, we have only seen the changes in tactics of the
Dalai Lama and the goal is to achieve the independence of Tibet
in disguise," he told a news conference in the high-altitude
Tibetan capital, but added that the two sides were still

"Still the channel between the Dalai Lama and the central
government remains unimpeded," he added.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India in 1959, when China
crushed an uprising against nine years of Communist rule after
Chinese troops occupied the long-separate region in 1950.

He now heads a government in exile in Dharamsala, India,
and although he is leader of just one of Tibetan Buddhism's
several branches, his spiritual status and public profile mean
that he is widely revered by ordinary Tibetans.

But Phuntsok, who also cited media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's
criticism of the spiritual leader as a globe-trotting monk with
a taste for Italian shoes, said ordinary Tibetans had lost
their bond with the Dalai Lama.

"Many members of the public are disappointed by what
they've seen and heard the Dalai Lama has done, and they've
spontaneously taken down pictures of him," he said, speaking
Chinese. "You will seldom see people hanging pictures of him in
their homes."

Beijing has labeled the Dalai Lama a separatist and his
image is banned from display in Tibet's many temples.

Tibetans in India have protested against the new train,
which Beijing promises will bring greater economic development.
Critics say it will only speed up an influx of Han Chinese into
the region, displacing Tibetans and diluting their culture.