Dalai Lama Receives Parisian Citizenship, Requests US Help | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.04.2008
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Dalai Lama Receives Parisian Citizenship, Requests US Help

Paris granted the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship as a fresh wave of anti-Western protests broke out in China. Meanwhile, the Tibetan spiritual leader called on the United States for help with Tibet.

The Dalai Lama with an EU flag in the background

Honorary Parisian citizenship for the Dalai Lama is a blow to China

The Paris city council voted on Monday, April 21, to bestow honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama without the blessing of President Nicolas Sarkozy's federal government. Hu Jia, a prominent human rights activist who was jailed in China earlier this month on charges of attempted subversion, was also awarded citizenship in the French capital.

Beijing said Tuesday it was "strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the Paris city council's decision, calling it interference in China's internal affairs.

A spokesman for Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party said Paris' Mayor Bertrand Delanoe may have been trying to boost his domestic popularity with the initiative.

Delanoe on Monday called the Dalai Lama a "champion of peace" and said Paris wanted "to show its support for the people of Tibet who are defending their most basic right to dignity, freedom and simple life."

The honorary citizenship has turned up the heat on already simmering relations between France and China.

Calls to boycott French retailer Carrefour's 122 shops throughout China began on Saturday and at least one location was forced to shut its doors on Monday due to hefty demonstrations.

China's foreign ministry said Tuesday it did not agree with "individual radical actions," referring to unruly scenes that evolved during anti-Western protests targeting the Carrefour stores.

"We do not agree with some individual radical actions," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing. "We think the Chinese people can express their feelings in a legal and rational way."

Sarkozy writes to Chinese torch-bearer

Protestors hold Chinese national flags during a demonstration against Carrefour supermarket

Thousands demonstrated in front of Carrefour supermarkets on Saturday

Tension arose between the two countries two weeks ago when pro-Tibet demonstrators disrupted the Olympic torch relay in Paris. Wheelchair-bound Chinese fencer Jin Jing has since become a national icon after she resisted protestors who attempted to grab the torch.

On a visit to Shanghai on Monday, French Senate President Christian Poncelet presented her a letter from Sarkozy expressing regret over the incident. The athlete told Chinese press that she was disappointed that the French president didn't explicitly apologize for the incident.

Sarkozy "expressed regret, shock and condemnation but no apology," Beijing reports quoted Jin as saying.

Poncelet was also expected to hand over a letter from Sarkozy to Chinese President Hu Jintao, emphasizing the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Sarkozy has said he will not attend the opening ceremonies in August if China does not enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama in order to resolve the crisis with Tibet. France is set to take over the EU's rotating presidency before the Games begin.

French, EU diplomats head to Beijing

Jin Jing

Jin Jing has become a national heroine

Two other high-ranking French diplomats -- former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Sarkozy's top diplomatic advisor Jean-David Levitte -- are scheduled to make official visits to Beijing this week.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will also travel to China this week for talks on bilateral issues ranging from climate change to intellectual property. During the talks, he's expected to try to find balance between promoting the EU's business interests in the quickly developing economy and appeasing calls from Europe for at least a symbolic protest of China's crackdown in Tibet.

Barroso will raise "matters concerning human rights and freedom of expressions" while in Beijing," EU Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said on Monday. "Obviously, recent events in Tibet provide us with yet another reason to talk about these things."

Appeal for American aid

Chinese shoppers walk by a store window with mannequins

The EU doesn't want to jeopardize economic ties to China

The Dalai Lama on Monday called on the US for help with Tibet.

"At this moment we need your help," the Tibetan spiritual leader told US special envoy on Tibet Paula Dobriansky at a meeting in the US state of Michigan.

China criticized the meeting, the 12th of its kind between Dobriansky and the Dalai Lama, accusing the US of interfering in its internal affairs.

"The Dalai Lama is the only person with the influence and credibility to persuade Tibetans to eschew violence and accept a genuine autonomy within China that would also preserve Tibetan culture and identity," Dobriansky wrote in an editorial for Monday's Washington Post.

The Tibetan leader has consistently said he supports autonomy for Tibet within China, not complete sovereignty. On Monday he also reiterated his support for the summer Olympic Games.

Protests against China's rule over Tibet began last month and Beijing's treatment of the demonstrators has led to calls for a boycott of the Olympic Games.

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