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Prince Charles to meet Dalai Lama

world Updated: Mar 20, 2008 09:35 IST
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Prince Charles will meet with the Dalai Lama in London in May, a spokesman confirmed on Thursday, just a day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would do the same, much to Beijing's ire.

The announcement by the heir to the throne is likely to also draw opposition from Beijing, which said it was "seriously concerned" over Brown's plans to meet the Tibetan leader when he vists the British capital.

Asked by AFP whether the prince would meet with the Dalai Lama, a spokesman for the royal said: "Yes, that is accurate."

The spokesman declined to comment further, however.

In January, Charles told a group that campaigns against human rights abuses in Tibet that he would not be attending the Beijing Olympics in August.

The prince is a well-known supporter of the Tibetan cause, and hosted a reception at St. James's Palace in May 2004 for the spiritual leader, whom Beijing regards as a separatist.

He has also not spoken kindly of China's leaders in the past -- in a diary entry made public in 2006, Charles wrote on the occasion of Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997 that China's leaders resembled a "group of appalling old waxworks".

China, meanwhile, articulated its concerns over Brown's meeting with the Dalai Lama, with foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang describing him as "a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion," according to the official Xinhua news agency.

He added that Beijing was "seriously concerned" by the news of Brown's announcement.

But the Dalai Lama's representative in Britain, Tsering Tashin, told Channel 4 News: "This is the standard official Chinese statement. If anything happens they make this sort of statement."

"The most important thing for China is to recognise that there is a real problem inside Tibet."

Brown's confirmation came after he spoke by telephone to Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao and pressed him to end violence in Tibet, which has triggered a swift clampdown by Chinese authorities.

"I made it absolutely clear that there had to be an end to violence in Tibet... I called for an end to the violence by dialogue between the different parties," he told parliament during his weekly question period.

"The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said -- that he does not support the total independence of Tibet, and that he renounces violence -- that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama."

"I will meet the Dalai Lama when he is in London," he added.

A spokesman for Brown's office could not say when the Dalai Lama might be coming, but the Tibetan leader is due to be in London on May 22 for an event at the Royal Albert Hall, a spokeswoman from the Tibet Society UK said.

The talks would be the Dalai Lama's first with Brown since the prime minister took office last June. His predecessor Tony Blair was criticised when he declined to meet the Dalai Lama in 2004.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel triggered a deep freeze in relations between Berlin and Beijing for several months after she met the exiled Tibetan leader in her chancellery offices in September last year.

An aide of the Dalai Lama said Wednesday that he wants talks between his government-in-exile and China to resume and is committed to a non-violent settlement of the Tibet issue.

Tibet's government-in-exile has put the "confirmed" death toll from a week of unrest at 99, while the exiled Tibetan parliament in Dharamshala has said "hundreds" may have died in the Chinese crackdown.

China, however, has denied using deadly force to quell the unrest and said the only deaths so far were 13 "innocent civilians" killed by rioters in Lhasa on Friday, while 325 people were injured.