|'Marco Polo's Tibetan friend stopped Khan's massacres'
Venice, February 10 - The Dalai Lama recalled a predecessor who stopped Kublai Khan slaughtering people in Marco Polo's time as he received the keys to Venice Tuesday, a day after being made a citizen of Rome.
The Dalai Lama waves to a cheering crowd after being awarded with Venice's honorary citizenship in Venice, northern Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009. The Dalai Lama was awarded Venice's honorary citizenship the day after he received Rome's honorary citizenship on Monday. In the background the church of St. George Major (begun 1566) by Italian architect Andrea Palladio. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini)
''It was a Tibetan lama who persuaded the Grand Khan to suspend the executions of 100,000 people who were thrown into the river each year; the lama was a friend of Marco Polo,'' said the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, 73, as he was made an honorary citizen by Venice Mayor Massimo Cacciari.
''But the past is the past and today the communist Chinese authorities have an extremely restrictive and short-sighted view,'' he said, accusing China of ''deliberately seeking to eliminate Tibetan people, culture and religion''.
Monks in Lhasa now only numbered ''around 50,'' down from 100 a couple of years ago and thousands in 1959, the year the Tibetan people rose up peacefully against China's invasion ten years before, he said.
The situation has deteriorated since a crackdown on a two-week Buddhist monk-led uprising in March last year, the Dala Lama said.
''Many people are still being arrested in Tibet, many disappear, are beaten, have their legs and arms broken and are prohibited from opening Tibetan schools''.
The uprising left more than 100 dead, 100 missing and 1,200 in jail, according to figures released by the Tibetan government-in-exile.
China said 18 civilians and two policemen were killed by protesters.
''In such a difficult period, receiving your sympathy and feeling it passed from heart to heart encourages me and makes me happy,'' said the Lama, who is seeking special autonomy status for his homeland.
Venice Mayor Cacciari praised ''the intelligence with which the Dalai Lama has conducted his battle for the freedom and self-determination of Tibet''.
''The battle is not over and we intend to show our support by giving you honorary citizenship,'' said the mayor, who is a leading Italian philosopher.
The Dalai Lama was accompanied on his trip to Venice by the head of the Italian parliament's Tibet support group, Radical MP Matteo Mecacci. As in Rome the previous day, Mecacci criticised the Italian government's decision to ''ignore'' the Dalai Lama's visit, as well as its response to Chinese criticism.
He said the government should have taken the opportunity to voice support, as the European Union has repeatedly done, for Tibetan autonomy.