Canada PM to meet Dalai Lama over Chinese protests

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OTTAWA, Oct 26 (Reuters) For the first time, the prime minister of Canada will meet the Dalai Lama in a public fashion at an official venue next week, despite Chinese warnings that it could hurt bilateral relations.

The office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today he would meet the Tibetan religious leader in Harper's suite in Parliament on Monday afternoon and would allow photographers to record the event.

Harper's predecessor Paul Martin met the Dalai Lama in 2004, but only privately at the home of the Roman Catholic archbishop in Ottawa.

''It is a major step forward,'' said Dermod Travis, executive director of the Canada-Tibet Committee.

The Dalai Lama is also scheduled to meet with Governor General Michaelle Jean, representative of Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth, and will meet with leaders of the opposition parties.

The 72-year-old Buddhist leader -- who is only the third person to receive honorary Canadian citizenship -- is scheduled to make public addresses in Ottawa and Toronto next week.

Harper, who took power in February 2006, has clashed publicly with China over human rights but his office denied he was trying to step up pressure.

''We're not intending to ratchet anything up but we are intending to honor his (the Dalai Lama's) commitment to human rights,'' Harper spokeswoman Carolyn Stewart-Olsen said.

Last week US President George W Bush and leaders of Congress gave the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal in a packed ceremony in the US Capitol.

China canceled an annual human rights dialogue with Germany to show its displeasure with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting last month with the Dalai Lama.

China's embassy in Ottawa declined to answer phone calls but Ambassador Lu Shumin was quoted in Friday's Ottawa Citizen as warning Canada to be careful about matters involving Tibet and Taiwan, as they bear on China's sovereignty.

''Any failure to do so will undoubtedly jeopardize our bilateral relations and will also undermine the fundamental interests of Canada in the long term,'' it quoted the ambassador as saying.

REUTERS SZ PM0135

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