Bush to host Dalai Lama at White House

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WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) US President George W Bush, risking Chinese anger, will host exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House next week.

Bush will welcome the Dalai Lama on Tuesday, a day before he accepts the US Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow.

The White House had previously announced that Bush and his wife, Laura, would attend the award ceremony on Capitol Hill.

China views the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule, as a separatist.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner says he only wants greater autonomy for the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region.

China reacted angrily when the US Congress decided to give the Dalai Lama the medal, denouncing the decision as interference in its internal affairs.

''The Chinese government strongly opposes the US Congress giving the Dalai Lama a so-called award,'' said government spokesman Liu Jianchao.

The award ceremony will be the first time Bush will have appeared in public with the Dalai Lama, who has visited the White House before but always for private meetings.

White House press secretary Dana Perino defended Bush's decision to attend the award ceremony.

''This is a spiritual leader who is fighting for freedom and democracy, which the president is supporting as well,'' she said. ''(Bush) understands that the Chinese have concerns about this. We would hope that the Chinese leader would get to know the Dalai Lama as the president sees him, as a spiritual leader and someone who wants peace.'' Reuters DKS VP0026

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