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Sunday, 10 February, 2002, 11:32 GMT
'Chinese' Panchen Lama appears on TV
Panchen Lama with Chinese communist party Chairman Lee Ruihuan
The Panchen Lama was shown meeting Chinese leaders
The boy endorsed by China as the second-highest spiritual authority in Tibetan Buddhism has made a rare televised appearance.

Gyancain Norbu is recognised by China as the 11th Panchen Lama but his status is disputed by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Chinese television showed him being received by the Chinese leadership on his 12th birthday.

Panchen Lama
The Panchen Lama's legitimacy is disputed
The boy has been living in seclusion and under heavy protection near Beijing for the last few years.

In 1995, the Chinese Government forced Tibetan monks to appoint Gyancain Norbu rather than the Dalai Lama's candidate - Gedhun Choekyi Nyima - in an attempt to further exert its authority over Tibet.

But Gyancain Norbu enjoys little support among Tibetans, who disparagingly refer to him as "the Chinese Panchen", or "Jiang Zemin's Panchen".

Panchen mystery

Since he was selected, Gyancain Norbu has lived much of his life shrouded in secrecy.

He is shown only occasionally meeting senior leaders or taking part in religious ceremonies in Beijing, where he is being groomed for office by Chinese educators.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima
The Dalai Lama's choice as Panchen Lama has disappeared
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was taken into custody seven years ago after he was endorsed by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama's reincarnation.

His whereabouts are now unknown.

Human rights groups have described him as the world's youngest political prisoner and have backed Tibetan calls for his release.

Correspondents say that one reason why the Panchen Lama is so crucial in Tibetan religion - and in Chinese-Tibetan relations - is the fact that he is charged with selecting the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Group barred

On Friday, China blocked a pro-Tibetan group from attending a United Nations conference on development to be held later this year in Johannesburg.

China said the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet should be excluded from the summit because it favoured separating Tibet from China.

Campaign members said China's action had put Tibet higher on the UN agenda than it had been decades.

See also:

30 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
China says arrested Panchen lama well
05 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Panchen Lama visits Shanghai
05 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Panchen Lama's tour of China
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dalai Lama: Spiritual leader in exile
25 Apr 01 | South Asia
Demand to release Panchen Lama
19 Jun 99 | Asia-Pacific
Panchen Lama returns to Tibet
11 Mar 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tibetans keep their faith
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tibet: Flashback to the Chinese 'deal'
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