By HIROKO TABUCHI and NAOTO OKAMURA
His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing a press conference in Japan on April 10, 2008. (Photo: save-tibet.net)
CHIBA, Japan: The Dalai Lama reiterated his appeal for an international investigation into China's recent crackdown of an antigovernment uprising in Tibet, calling Beijing's version of events "distorted."
The exiled Tibetan leader spoke during a brief stopover Thursday in Japan en route to the U.S. -- his first visit since the Tibetan clashes -- where he is slated to speak at a religious conference in Seattle.
China has accused the Dalai Lama of inciting the riots, which it describes as looting by a small group of Tibetan separatists. The Dalai Lama refutes that claim, saying the uprisings come amid wider discontent in the autonomous region.
The international community needs to go to Tibet to "carry thorough investigations," the Dalai Lama said at a press conference near Tokyo's international airport, where he was transiting for just several hours. "The official explanation sometimes seems distorted," he said.
The Dalai Lama also insisted his trip to Seattle had nothing to do with politics. The "main purpose of my visit to the United States is essentially nonpolitical," he said. He said he would be happy to attend the Beijing Olympic Games in August, if he were invited.
The Tibetan leader, a religious and cultural figurehead for the region who fled his homeland for India in 1959, has said he wants better treatment of ethnic Tibetans in China, but not Tibetan independence.
Still, China was quick to protest the leader's travels overseas from his base in India. Speaking at a scheduled press conference shortly after the Dalai Lama's press conference, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on "countries with friendly relations with China not to support any separatist activities."
The Dalai Lama's travels come amid heightened political sensitivities surrounding the summer games. In recent days, Olympic torch relays have been repeatedly disrupted by protestors who were angry over China's actions in Tibet. On Wednesday, the torch procession was rerouted away from thousands of demonstrators and spectators in San Francisco over security concerns.
Several world leaders including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said they won't attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. President Bush has also faced pressure to stay away.
Mr. Bush on Wednesday urged Beijing to hold direct talks with the Dalai Lama, a call China quickly shrugged off. "The activities of the Dalai clique have undermined any basis for contact and talks," said Ms. Jiang, the foreign ministry spokeswoman.
The Dalai Lama's Tokyo stopover has been a delicate issue for Japan, which has been trying to bolster relations with China. The Dalai Lama is a popular figure in this predominantly Buddhist country, and makes frequent visits here as well as stopovers en route to the U.S. Top government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura stressed Thursday that no government officials would meet with the Dalai Lama.
The religious leader, however, met with Akie Abe, the wife of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a hotel near the airport, local media reported. The Foreign Ministry and Mr. Abe's office declined to confirm the reports, and said that even if a meeting had taken place, it was in a personal capacity.Write to Hiroko Tabuchi at email@example.com and Naoto Okamura at firstname.lastname@example.org