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Dalai Lama Speaks Out in Germany Amid Controversy

DW staff (sp)
May 18, 2008

The Dalai Lama, who is in Germany for five days, called Sunday for religious tolerance as controversy simmers in Berlin over the planned meeting between the Buddhist leader and a member of Chancellor Merkel's cabinet.

Dalai Lama in Nuremberg
The Dalai Lama is greeted by a crowd of supporters in NurembergImage: AP

The Dalai Lama told a sold-out crowd of 7,000 in the southern German city of Nuremberg on Sunday, May 18 that religious tolerance is an imperative and said it's tragic that religious differences often lead to bloodshed.

"We need all the different religions to serve the people, because the people are different and have different goals," the 72-year-old Nobel peace laureate said during his appearance at the Nuremberg Arena.

Germany's human rights commissioner, Guenter Nooke, also addressed the crowd and renewed calls for negotiations between the Chinese government and Tibetan leaders over the administration of Tibet.

Nooke said such negotiations could be organized through "diplomatic skill and public pressure."

Not seeking Tibetan independence

On Saturday, the Tibetan spiritual leader spoke to a crowd of 2,500 people in Moenchengladbach, saying he will continue to repeat his message of freedom for Tibetans until the unrest in his homeland remains unsolved.

Earlier this week, the Dalai Lama told a news conference in the western German city of Bochum he was not seeking independence for Tibet.

Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama spelled out his position on Tibet in BochumImage: AP

"We want to live in peace with our Chinese brothers and sisters," he said. "We are not seeking independence," but merely greater autonomy and more respect for Tibet culture, religion and language, he added.

The Dalai Lama will give speeches in the town of Bamberg in the southern German state of Bavaria on Sunday, before arriving in Berlin. German rock bands "Wir sind Helden" and "2raumwohnung" will celebrate the Buddhist leader's visit by performing live, alongside Tibetan singer Ani Choyling.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to address a pro-Tibet rally in Berlin and meet with Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the highest-ranking German official to meet with the Buddhist leader during his visit.

Meeting marked by controversy

The run-up to the visit was marked by a domestic row because no one in the German cabinet was initially prepared to meet him, apparently fearing it could upset China.

Chancellor Merkel is currently in Latin America and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, has declined to meet with the Tibetan leader as has German President Horst Koehler. Steinmeier defended his objections by saying, "It takes a lot of courage not to meet with the Dalai Lama these days."

Merkel met with the Dalai Lama at the chancellery during his last visit to Germany in September, a move that led to a chill in relations with China.

SPD chief angered by planned meet

Though Wieczorek-Zeul, a Social Democrat, is set to receive Tibet's exiled spiritual leader in a Berlin hotel on Monday, rather than at her ministry, the event has reportedly also angered the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) president Kurt Beck who is said to have been unaware of the meeting.

Wiezorek-Zeul has stirred controversy by meeting with the Dalai LamaImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"None of us knew that Heidemarie Wiezorek-Zeul wanted to meet with the Dalai Lama," Beck was quoted by newspaper Welt am Sonntag as saying on Sunday in the northern German city of Luebeck. Beck criticized the planned meeting, saying Wieczorek-Zeul was putting the SPD on the defensive.

China has formally protested Wieczorek-Zeul's planned meeting, according to a spokesman at the German foreign ministry.

"We object to a member of the German government receiving the Dalai Lama and to Germany allowing him to carry out this visit," Junhui Zhang from the Chinese embassy in Berlin told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

He also said in an interview with television broadcaster ARD that giving the Dalai Lama an official reception violates Germany's "one-China policy," which a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel denied.

Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wiezorek-Zeul defended her meeting with the Dalai Lama recently.

"I don't understand the excitement about the meeting with the Dalai Lama. I regularly talk with religious leaders. Why not with the Dalai Lama?" Wieczorek-Zeul told Spiegel Online.

"It is the development ministry's job to promote dialogue between religions and to strengthen civil society around the world."

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