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Dalai Lama tells Taiwan to safeguard its democracy

The Tibetan spiritual leader's call appears to contradict assurances that his trip was solely to comfort victims of Typhoon Morakot. The visit has angered Beijing.

September 01, 2009|Associated Press

SHIAOLIN, TAIWAN — The Dalai Lama exhorted Taiwan to safeguard its democracy, interspersing prayers for the victims of Typhoon Morakot with a challenge to China.

The Tibetan spiritual leader's call Monday appeared to contradict assurances that his five-day visit to comfort the victims of the worst storm to hit the island in 50 years would steer clear of the political -- a concern for President Ma Ying-jeou's administration, which is seeking closer ties with mainland China.

Today, Taiwan's governing party said that China had canceled or postponed several events, apparently to show its anger over the Dalai Lama's visit.

The Dalai Lama visited the remote mountain village of Shiaolin on Monday, kneeling on the ground to pray for the hundreds killed when August torrential rains triggered two catastrophic mudslides. He acknowledged that Taiwan and China should maintain "their very close and unique links."

But, he said, Taiwan should never lose sight of the importance of its democratic political system, which stands in marked contrast to China's one-party dictatorship.

"You enjoy democracy," he told a crowd of several hundred people amid a landscape of upended tree trunks. "That must be preserved. No matter what political party, think common interest and work united."

The trip has infuriated Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. It calls the Dalai Lama a "splittist," alleging that he seeks independence for his native Tibet.

Beijing also regularly uses that sobriquet for advocates of formal independence for Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949.

The Buddhist spiritual leader's arrival created a dilemma for Ma, who in his 15 months in office has halted his predecessor's pro-independence policies, reducing tensions with the mainland.

China has not blamed Ma personally for the visit.

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