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Brown, Dalai Lama hold 'warm, constructive' talks
AFP[Friday, May 23, 2008 19:15]
LONDON, May 23 — Prime Minister Gordon Brown held "very warm and constructive" talks with the Dalai Lama Friday, his office said, pledging Britain's full support towards a rapprochement between Tibet and China.

The 25-minute meeting -- held at the Archbishop of Canterbury's official residence on the south bank of the River Thames in London -- was the most contentious part of an 11-day visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Brown, who is keen to boost trade and other links with China, has been criticised for "kow-towing" to Beijing by not receiving him in Downing Street like his predecessors Tony Blair and John Major.

China, which accuses the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner of fomenting secessionist unrest in the Himalayan region, has previously said it was "seriously concerned" about the meeting taking place.

Neither Brown, who insists the talks were not political, nor the 72-year-old Buddhist cleric commented as they arrived at and left Lambeth Palace, where Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, is based.

But a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, said afterwards the talks were "very warm and constructive".

"The prime minister started by saying how much he respected the Dalai Lama and they went on to discuss the dialogue between the representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government," he told AFP.

"The Dalai Lama then gave the prime minister an update on that which was very useful.

"The prime minister talked about what we could do here to support that dialogue and both recognised that it was central to taking forward improved relations between people in the autonomous region of Tibet and the centre."

He added: "The Dalai Lama re-emphasised that he was committed to autonomy not independence, was against violence and not disrupt the Olympics."

Small groups of demonstrators gathered outside, including pro-Beijing supporters and members of the Western Shugden Society, a Buddhist group which accused the Dalai Lama of stifling their freedom of worship.

The Dalai Lama played down the controversy over his meeting with Brown in an appearance before a parliamentary oversight committee on foreign affairs Thursday.

But asked if Britain was doing enough to support Tibet, he replied: "I think not enough."

Brown, who said in March he was "unhappy" about China's actions in Tibet, has also rejected criticisms that he was compliant to Beijing, saying the location of the talks was not as important as the substance.

The Dalai Lama is in Britain until May 30, with talks on human rights and peace and meetings with lawmakers a part of his schedule.

On Thursday, demonstrators targeted the Dalai Lama as about 1,000 supporters and critics rallied outside the Royal Albert Hall, where he made his first public address since arriving in London.

In his speech, the Dalai Lama welcomed encouraging signs of openness from China in its handling of this month's earthquake disaster, but said Beijing lacked the moral authority of a true superpower.

He warned that China's "ruthless suppression" in Tibet would only fan calls for independence, which he does not back.

The spiritual leader agreed that the West needed good economic ties with China as an emerging superpower.

He later met heir to the throne Prince Charles for talks about "spiritual matters" at his Clarence House residence. The Dalai Lama planted a tree there and prayed before the talks began.
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