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Saturday, May 22, 1999 Published at 04:28 GMT 05:28 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Birthday Buddha's tooth in Hong Kong

First class: The tooth arrives in Hong Kong

By Duncan Hewitt in Beijing

Jill McGivering reports for the BBC: "The tooth is one of only two which survived the cremation"
A tooth relic believed by Buddhists to be that of the Lord Buddha has arrived in Hong Kong where a special ceremony is to be held on Saturday to mark Buddha's birthday.

Senior officials from China accompanied the relic on a special flight from Beijing where it is normally kept out of sight in a pagoda.

[ image: High security surrounded the arrival]
High security surrounded the arrival
The relic, one of the holiest in Buddhism, is believed to have been found among the remains of the Buddha after his cremation.

A spokesman for China's Buddhist Association said it was being sent to Hong Kong at the request of the region's Buddhist community.

On Saturday it will be worshipped at a ceremony in a Hong Kong stadium to mark Buddha's birthday, which is being celebrated for the first time as a public holiday in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa will be among dignatories in attendance.

China says the tooth is one of only two in existence, with the other in Sri Lanka.

[ image: The relic is one of the holiest in Buddhism]
The relic is one of the holiest in Buddhism
A third relic in the possession of a Tibetan monk caused great excitement when moved to Taiwan last year, but was angrily denounced by Chinese officials as a false tooth.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, said there was no Buddhist scripture to prove its authenticity - a claim rejected as irrelevant by Taiwanese Buddhist leaders.

Sensitivity over the issue reflects China's desire to emphasise its influence over Chinese schools of Buddhism.

Beijing last year embarked on celebrations marking 2,000 years of Buddhism in China.

And senior Chinese religious officials will be in Hong Kong for the ceremony to welcome the tooth, which will be on display for a week.

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