Hundreds rallied in Austria today to greet the Dalai Lama after Vienna ignored warnings from China that relations with Beijing could be harmed by hosting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
China made its objections clear to the 76-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate's meetings with Austrian leaders but chancellor Werner Faymann said he would decide whom to meet.
The Dalai Lama, who is on an 11-day visit to Austria with the prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile Lobsang Sangay, was to speak later at the gathering in Vienna's Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square).
"All the promises that were made in 2008 at the time of the Olympic games have been broken. The Tibetans are in a minority in their own region," a member of the Save Tibet organisation who gave her name as Erika told AFP at the rally.
The Dalai Lama met Faymann earlier today, a day after saying he was open to dialogue with China and calling for real autonomy for Tibet.
The social democrat chancellor, however, dismissed the warnings from Beijing voiced Monday by its ambassador to Vienna and repeated today by the foreign ministry.
"I answer the question of whom I meet myself, and that goes for the Dalai Lama," he said. "Austria is a country which has always shown itself to be on the side of human rights, and I alone am responsible for my agenda."
Calling their meeting "a clear political signal for human rights, non-violence and dialogue and against oppression," Faymann said he was personally interested in meeting such an "eminent figure".
China condemned the talks as "a severe interference with China's internal affairs" which "hurt the feelings of Chinese people", the state Xinhua news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying today.
The Dalai Lama was "a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China secessionist activities in the name of religion", spokesman Hong Lei said.
The foreign ministry in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Austria would "both lodge solemn representations to the Austrian side", he said, warning of the impact on ties between the two countries.
Chinese ambassador to Vienna Shi Mingde said on Monday that Austria should not offer a platform to the Dalai Lama's "separatist tendencies", warning that it would not be beneficial to relations with Beijing.