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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 02:52 GMT
Dalai Lama steps up succession rhetoric
By Emily Buchanan
BBC News

The debate over who will one day succeed Tibet's iconic spiritual leader is heating up, even though the Dalai Lama himself says he is "good for another few decades".

Talking to reporters in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, he emphasised his desire to make the Tibetan leadership more democratic.

"As early as 1969 I made clear the very institution of the Dalai Lama is up to the Tibetan people," he said.

He outlined other methods to appoint his successor as well, such as one similar to electing the Pope where senior lamas would choose the next Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan spiritual leader also raised the possibility of himself naming a new Dalai Lama while he is still alive, a proposal he outlined in Japan last week.

'Blatant violation'

The Dalai Lama's ideas have been roundly condemned by Beijing.

"The Dalai Lama's statement is in blatant violation of religious practice and historical procedure", the Foreign Ministry said.

"The Chinese government will not accept any of these proposals as it wants to be in control of Tibet's future spiritual leadership."

The atheist communist government is, rather strangely, now appealing directly to Tibetans' faith.

In suggesting the old method of reincarnation might be by-passed, the government says the Dalai Lama is not respecting their religious tradition.

Beijing is now claiming to be the only organisation that can safeguard and validate future reincarnations of all lamas.

The latest row has intensified since September when Beijing passed legislation aimed at controlling the appointments of minor lamas in temples across Tibet.

New rules declared that any reincarnations without government consent were illegal.

The Chinese have already imposed their own Panchen Lama, replacing the 11th Panchen Lama who was appointed by the Dalai Lama but who has now disappeared.

Beijing justifies its right to a final say over reincarnations on a precedent established in the 17th century under the Qing Dynasty.

Strong rhetoric

Lamas across Tibet are viewed as a threat by the Chinese as they are community leaders and become symbols of opposition to Chinese cultural domination.

Many Tibetans view the Chinese move as turning a historic system based on ancient spiritual rules into effectively a state organised religion, further eroding their Himalayan culture.

The Dalai Lama has often spoken about his succession before.

Ten years ago he announced that if Tibet was still occupied when he died then his reincarnation would not be born under Chinese control but in the free world.

But with monasteries in Tibet under increasing pressure, his rhetoric appears to be strengthening.

The Chinese government views the Dalai Lama as a threat to stability, calling him a "splittist" determined to divide Tibet from the Chinese "motherland".

The Tibetan leaders himself says he merely wants autonomy for the region.

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