Dalai Lama trip angers China

TAWANG - The Dalai Lama visited a remote Tibetan monastery in northeast India yesterday at the start of a trip that has infuriated China, which claims the surrounding Himalayan region as its own.

TAWANG - The Dalai Lama visited a remote Tibetan monastery in northeast India yesterday at the start of a trip that has infuriated China, which claims the surrounding Himalayan region as its own.

Thousands of Buddhists gave the Tibetan spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in India for 50 years, a rousing welcome as he arrived at the Tawang monastery, perched at 3500 metres in Arunachal Pradesh.

"We are very pleased and blessed to have His Holiness here," said Sarwang Lama, a monk wearing a new maroon robe.

The Dalai Lama smiled and waved to crowds of devotees, and said he was very happy to be in Tawang.

Beijing has called the visit a provocation aimed at harming relations between China and India.

Tawang holds strong memories for the Nobel laureate.

When he fled Tibet 50 years ago after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, Arunachal was his point of entry to India and he took refuge in Tawang at the start of his decades in exile.

"There are a lot of emotions involved," he said. "When I escaped from China in 1959 I was mentally and physically weak. The Chinese did not pursue us in 1959, but when I reached India they started speaking against me."

Preparations for his week-long tour of Arunachal have been under way for two months, with many buildings receiving a fresh coat of paint and regular prayers held for his safe journey.

It was not his first visit to Tawang but the timing has caused Beijing to protest in far stronger fashion than in the past.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh toured the region last month during an election campaign, prompting warnings from Beijing about harming bilateral ties.

But the presence of the Dalai Lama in the disputed region is seen as a double provocation.

China accused the Dalai Lama and his exiled "clique" of helping to organise anti-China protests that erupted in Lhasa in March last year and spread across the region. - Sapa-AFP

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