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Australia leader meets Dalai Lama
BBC[Friday, June 15, 2007 16:24]

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, right, greets the Dalai Lama in Sydney, Friday, June 15, 2007. The Dalai Lama is in Australia for an 11-day tour. Beijing regards the 71-year-old Buddhist icon as a beacon for pro-independence sentiment in Tibet, which China rules by military force, although the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he seeks only autonomy for the region. (AP Photo/Tracey Nearmy, Pool)
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, right, greets the Dalai Lama in Sydney, Friday, June 15, 2007. The Dalai Lama is in Australia for an 11-day tour. Beijing regards the 71-year-old Buddhist icon as a beacon for pro-independence sentiment in Tibet, which China rules by military force, although the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he seeks only autonomy for the region. (AP Photo/Tracey Nearmy, Pool)
Australian PM John Howard has met the Dalai Lama in Sydney, brushing aside fierce opposition from China.

The 71-year-old spiritual leader is on an 11-day trip to Australia, which has complicated relations between Beijing and Canberra.

China has condemned the meeting, saying the Dalai Lama is a political exile engaged in what it calls "splittist" activities over Tibet.

But Canberra says Australia is one of the world's great liberal democracies.

'Extinction'

In deciding to meet the Dalai Lama, Mr Howard has provoked a diplomatic row at a moment when trade links with China have never been closer, the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says.

Australia is one of the best placed countries in the world to benefit from China's economic development, and it can help meet the rising economic power's growing appetite for minerals, especially coal.

So the decision to go ahead with the meeting was not taken lightly, our correspondent adds.

Canberra said a spiritual leader of the stature of the Dalai Lama would always be welcome.

But it also tried to placate Beijing by saying that the Buddhist icon had not been using Australia as a platform to promote Tibetan independence.

Instead the Dalai Lama has been calling for meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people.

Without it, he has warned, Tibet along with its culture and tradition could face extinction in just 15 years.
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