The Dalai Lama (Photo: AFP)
ROME, December 13: Tibetan exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama called on Italy Thursday to support Tibet in its bid for autonomy, in a speech to Italian parliament members.
"We appeal to you, help us," the Dalai Lama told lawmakers, urging both concrete help as well as moral support.
Recent meetings between the Dalai Lama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George W. Bush have angered Beijing.
A planned meeting with Pope Benedict XVI was cancelled, in a decision that Italian media reports said facilitated the recent ordination of a new bishop in Guangdong, southern China, with the Vatican's approval.
While some lawmakers wanted the speech to occur in the parliament chamber, the president of the chamber of deputies, Fausto Bertinotti, refused.
He argued that the only religious authority entitled to speak in the chamber was the pope, due to his connections with Italy.
The speech instead occurred in a side room.
"We do not want independence for Tibet, but only to preserve our cultural traditions, which enrich even those of China," the Dalai Lama said.
China made clear its disapproval of the trip to the Italian foreign affairs ministry.
Bertinotti said he supported both Tibet's right to cultural autonomy and strong Italy-China relations.
Conservative members of parliament said Bertinotti was "speaking as a member of the Communist party, not as president of the lower chamber."
The Dalai Lama also met the Senate President Franco Marini, but no official meeting with Prime Minister Romano Prodi or his government was scheduled.
Earlier on Thursday, the Dalai Lama -- himself a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1989 -- met other Nobel winners at an annual summit in Rome.
Apart from the Tibetan leader, the former Russian and Polish presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa, who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and 1983, were present, as was Hollywood actor George Clooney.
The actor was given a prize for his activism on the world stage.