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The Vatican: The Pope won't meet the Dalai Lama

In an apparent move to avoid conflict with China, the Vatican has said the Pope would not meet the Dalai Lama during his Rome visit. The Tibetan leader is travelling to Italy to participate in a Nobel laureates meeting.

The Dalai Lama will arrive in the Italian capital on Friday to attend a conference of Nobel peace laureates, however, there would be no meeting between Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists.

"This time I will not meet Pope Francis. The Vatican administration says it is not possible because there could be problems," the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.

Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said on Wednesday the Pope would instead send a video message to the conference.

"Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates," Lombardi said.

The Chinese factor

The last time the Dalai Lama met a pope was in October 2006. Beijing strictly objects to the state heads' meetings with the Tibetan leader.

The news agency AFP cited sources as saying that the Vatican's decision to not grant the Dalai Lama a papal audience could be due to the fact that it did not want to irk China.

There have been no diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Vatican since 1951. On his visit to South Korea in August, the Pope hinted at normalizing ties with China if the communist leaders gave more rights to their country's Catholic community and allowed the Vatican to appoint bishops.

The Dalai Lama advocates greater rights and autonomy for Tibet – a region annexed by China in 1950. In 1959, the Buddhist leader led a failed uprising against the Chinese government in Tibet and fled to India. An estimated 100,000 Tibetans still live in exile in India. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile are headquartered in the northern hill town of Dharamsala.

The three-day Rome conference was earlier scheduled to take place in Cape Town in October. The event was moved to Italy after the South African government declined a visa for the Tibetan leader.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Iranian lawyer and rights campaigner Shirin Ebadi, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni women's rights advocate Tawakkol Karman are also attending the three-day Rome conference.

shs/lw (dpa, AFP)

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