By ARIEL DAVID
Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gestures during the annual summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners, Rome Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007. China condemned the visit by the Dalai Lama to Rome, saying Thursday it opposed any country supporting or sympathizing with the exiled spiritual leader. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)
ROME: The Dalai Lama said Thursday that China is taking an increasingly harsh stance on Tibet and he appealed for international help during a visit to Rome.
Addressing Italian lawmakers in the lower chamber of parliament, the exiled spiritual leader said Tibet was not seeking independence from China but only wished to preserve its culture.
"Our right hand has always reached out to the Chinese government," the Dalai Lama said. "That hand has always remained empty, so with our left hand we appeal to you: help us."
The spiritual leader was at the end of a 10-day visit to Italy that, like most of his recent international trips, has drawn criticism from China.
Exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, waves as he arrives in Rome's Capitol Hill, Thursday Dec. 13, 2007. The Dalai Lama is at the end of a 10-day visit to Italy and will attend an annual summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners in Rome. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
China condemned the visit, saying it opposed any country supporting or sympathizing with the exiled spiritual leader.
"The Dalai is not a pure religious figure but a political exile under the cover of religion who has long been engaged in activities aimed at splitting the motherland and national unity," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama's recent meetings with President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also drew strong rebukes from Beijing, which says he wants to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama insists he only seeks autonomy for Tibet, which China has ruled since 1951.
Despite progress since 2001, Chinese officials in recent talks have "intensified the accusation" of separatism and claimed "there is no Tibetan issue," the Dalai Lama said.
The Dalai Lama stopped in Rome for an annual summit of Nobel peace laureates organized by a foundation headed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.