Canada defies China with Dalai Lama meetings

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GATINEAU, Quebec, Oct 29 (Reuters) The Canadian government defied China today and proceeded with public meetings with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

China has warned of possible damage to bilateral relations ahead of his visit, but the Canadian government went ahead with a meeting between him and junior cabinet member Jason Kenney in a federal building today morning as a prelude to an afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In 2004, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin met the Dalai Lama privately at the home of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Ottawa, but these meetings are in public, government buildings with photographers present.

''I don't care. The important (thing) is meeting (in) person.

That I consider is the most important,'' the Dalai Lama told reporters, standing next to Kenney.

''So whether meeting (the) prime minister in the office or private house doesn't matter, so long as (it is) a meeting with people face to face.'' He met Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism, in the Department of Heritage offices in Gatineau, across the Ottawa River from the Parliament buildings.

Harper is scheduled to meet with him on Monday afternoon at his office in Parliament. The Dalai Lama will also hold a private meeting with Governor General Michaelle Jean, representative of Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth.

The 72-year-old Buddhist monk -- who was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in June -- is also meeting leaders of Canada's opposition parties on Tuesday, though this time in a hotel.

The Chinese embassy would not answer phone calls but in a statement to the Globe and Mail newspaper the Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the Dalai Lama as a separatist who operates under the guise of religion.

''China has on many occasions made solemn representations to the Canadian side on the proposed visit of the Dalai Lama,'' it said.

''We call on the Canadian side to clearly understand the nature of the Dalai Lama's separatist activities and treat seriously China's serious concerns, and not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit, not allow him to use Canadian territory for activities to split China, and not to do anything to harm Sino-Canadian relations.'' 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 on October 17.

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.

REUTERS GT BD2342

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