The Dalai Lama (3rdR) poses with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (R), Rama Yade (L) and Bernard Kouchner during the inauguration ceremony of the Buddhist Lerab Ling temple in Roqueredonde, southern France, August 22, 2008
ROQUEREDONDE, France — The Dalai Lama on Friday urged China to "march towards democracy" as he met French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in a trip that has fuelled tensions between Paris and Beijing.
They were attending the inauguration of a Buddhist temple by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in the south of France and spoke privately with him after the ceremony.
The Dalai Lama told Kouchner the only way China can "regain its respectability in the international community" was the "march towards democracy," his French interpreter, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, said after the meeting.
The Dalai Lama presented the pair with long white scarves, a Tibetan gesture of hospitality and respect, which they wore around their necks as they watched their host prostrate himself before a statue of the Buddha.
The spiritual leader made a speech in English after officially opening the temple in which he called for harmony between different religious traditions and for respect for the environment.
"We have the responsibility to take care of this planet," he said. "We must extend love to all creatures, trees and beautiful things."
French human rights minister Rama Yade and former prime minister Alain Juppe were also at the event which was attended by about 2,000 people.
President Nicolas Sarkozy declined to meet the Dalai Lama, sparking accusations from the opposition Socialists that "the only guiding principle (of Sarkozy's policy towards China) appears to be not to displease Beijing."
A spokesman for the Dalai Lama said Friday that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy had passed on the president's "greetings" when she met with him at the temple.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking independence for Tibet, a Himalayan territory ruled for the last six decades by Beijing, and of fomenting unrest to sabotage the Olympic Games currently under way.
But the 73-year-old Nobel Peace prize winner insists he wants autonomy and religious freedom and not independence for Tibet.
China had cautioned Sarkozy that meeting the Dalai Lama would have "serious consequences" for bilateral relations, and Beijing warned France on Wednesday to prudently deal with the "important and sensitive" issue of Tibet.
Planned more than two years ago, the Dalai Lama's 12-day French visit which ends Saturday turned political after a Chinese crackdown on unrest in Tibet in March that sparked international outrage.
Sarkozy angered Beijing by threatening to boycott the opening of the Olympic Games following the crackdown. But he did finally attend the ceremony in Beijing on August 8.
The entourage of the Buddhist leader said he had not sought to see the French president and the Dalai Lama has repeated that his visit to France is not political and is mainly to give spiritual teaching to Buddhists here.
In an interview with France's Le Monde newspaper published Thursday, the Dalai Lama said Chinese troops fired on Tibetan protesters this week, as Beijing hosted the Olympics, and that at least 400 people have been killed since unrest erupted in March.
The spiritual leader denied a comment attributed to him by the paper that 140 people had died on Monday when the Chinese security forces opened fire on Tibetans. But his office said there had been casualties.
The incident happened in Garze, a Tibetan-majority town in China's Sichuan province near the border with Tibet, he said.
Chinese authorities in the area denied Friday when contacted by AFP that any such incident had occurred.
The Dalai Lama also told Le Monde that at least 400 Tibetans have been killed in the region around the Tibetan capital Lhasa since March, and 10,000 have been imprisoned in secret locations.
He said that in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics he had been hopeful of progress, encouraged by the commitment of Chinese President Hu Jintao to begin serious talks.
"But we were quickly disillusioned. Our envoys came up against a wall. There was no opening," he told the paper.
China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and officially "liberated" it the following year. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.