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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 22:35 GMT 23:35 UK
Dalai Lama denied Russian visa
The Dalai Lama meets former US President Bill Clinton
China is sensitive to the Dalai Lama's meetings

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has been refused a visa to visit Russia.

Buddhist associations in three Russian republics had invited the Dalai Lama to visit them in September.

It is thought that the Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to a protest by China, which accuses the religious leader of campaigning for an independent Tibet.

Dharamsalla
The Dalai Lama lives in exile in the Indian town of Dharamsalla

Russian Buddhists are threatening to demonstrate outside the ministry in Moscow, following the government's decision.

The Dalai Lama had wanted to visit the republics of Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia, all traditionally Buddhist areas.

Buddhism is one of four creeds recognised in the Russian Federation's law on religion as being inherent to Russia, along with Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The Dalai Lama visited Russia 11 years ago, before the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Hopes raised

Last year the Russian Government refused him a transit visa, when he was planning to travel to Mongolia.

Since then talks had been under way, and the organising committee for the visit was convinced that the Foreign Ministry would issue a visa provided that the Dalai Lama's itinerary did not include Moscow or St Petersburg.

The decision to refuse a visa now, even though the spiritual leader was not planning to visit Russia's two main cities, is being interpreted as a political gesture towards China.

Beijing maintains that the Dalai Lama's visits are in fact aimed at pressing for independence from China for his homeland, Tibet.

The Russian Foreign Ministry seems to have decided that its political relationship with Beijing is more important than Moscow's relationship with Russia's Buddhist regions.

See also:

23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
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12 Feb 02 | South Asia
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