China seethes as Dalai Lama to get high U S award

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WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is set to be honored by the U S Congress today in an award China denounced as a ''farce'' that would hurt relations between Beijing and Washington.

A smiling Dalai Lama emerged from a meeting with President George W. Bush yesterday and shrugged off the Chinese response, telling reporters: ''That always happens.'' The Bush administration, which took pains to keep the Dalai Lama's encounter with the president low-key in a bid to placate China, noted Beijing's ''strong feelings'' about him but denied the meeting was meddling in China's internal affairs.

''We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said after what was Bush's fourth meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since fleeing his predominantly Buddhist homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against communist rule, will receive the U S Congressional Gold Medal later today.

Bush will attend the ceremony on Capitol Hill, the first time a U S president will appear in public with the Dalai Lama.

In Beijing, atheist China's top religious affairs official condemned the medal award as a ''farce'' and called on the Dalai Lama to abandon dreams of independence for Tibet.

''The protagonist of this farce is the Dalai Lama,'' Ye Xiaowen, director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told reporters on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Communist Party's five-yearly conclave.

The Dalai Lama, 72, supports a ''middle way'' approach that advocates autonomy for Tibet within China and greater freedom to practice the region's unique form of Buddhism.

But Chinese officials do not trust him and have accused him of being a separatist. Beijing's rhetoric against the Dalai Lama has been increasing, even though the Chinese government is engaged in a tentative dialogue with his envoys.

In protest at the medal for the Dalai Lama, China pulled out of a meeting this month at which world powers were to discuss the Iranian nuclear situation. It has also canceled an annual human rights dialogue with Germany to show its displeasure over German Chancellor Angela Merkel's September meeting with Tibet's religious leader.

China analysts in Washington said they expected more such retaliatory moves. But some observers say Beijing sometimes uses such spats as a pretext to skip meetings it doesn't want to join anyway, such as human rights talks.

Earlier recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal, the country's highest civilian award, are first U S President George Washington, Mother Teresa, South Africa's Nelson Mandela and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

REUTERS RSA RN2059

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