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Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Dalai Lama holds mass gathering

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama looks on during a preaching session in Tawang, in the northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state, India, Monday, Nov. 9, 2009
This is not the Dalai Lama's first visit to Tawang

Tens of thousands of devotees have poured into the town of Tawang in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to hear an address by the Dalai Lama.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is currently on a week-long tour of Arunachal Pradesh - itself a source of dispute between Beijing and Delhi.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to undermine its rule in Tibet and says the visit is anti-China.

The Dalai Lama insists his visit is a spiritual lecture tour.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 when Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in Tibet.

In August this year, the Dalai Lama, 74, made another hugely controversial visit - to Taiwan, another region China considers part of its territory.

Thronging town

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Tawang says tens of thousands of people began pouring into Tawang in the early hours of Monday morning to hear the Dalai Lama speak.

Map

Many had travelled for days to be there and some had come from neighbouring Bhutan, our correspondent says.

Banners and Buddhist prayer flags lined the streets.

"It made us very happy to catch a glimpse of him. Nobody is more important to us than him. The Dalai Lama is our god," Karmayacha, who travelled 20 miles to attend the meeting, told the Associated Press news agency.

People packed an open-air polo ground to hear the Dalai Lama's address.

"Compassion and peace are the two words that should be remembered by all," the Dalai Lama is quoted by the AFP news agency as saying when he opened his programme of religious teaching.

He also opened a hospital in the town, to which he had contributed 2m rupees ($40,000).

Influential monastery

Although it is a remote frontier town, Tawang has immense strategic value. Its 300-year-old monastery is one of the most influential outside of Tibet.

Thousands of Buddhist devotees listen to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama during a preaching session in Tawang, in the northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state, India, Monday, Nov. 9, 2009
Many devotees travelled for days to see the Dalai Lama

It was at this monastery that the Dalai Lama sought refuge when he fled 50 years ago.

The Dalai Lama has made a number of visits to the town over the years since then.

"My visit to Tawang is non-political and aimed at promoting universal brotherhood and nothing else," the Dalai Lama said on Sunday.

Arunachal Pradesh's Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu said Beijing had "no right to interfere in India's internal matters".

The trip comes just weeks after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Arunachal Pradesh.

China strongly criticised that trip, accusing Mr Singh of ignoring its concerns.

China and India fought a brief border war in 1962 - partly over Arunachal Pradesh - and the frontier has yet to be settled despite several rounds of talks.

Trade between China and India has flourished in recent years, but several border disputes - including over Kashmir and Sikkim - have never been resolved.

Mistrust between Delhi and Beijing has recently gained momentum with reports in the Indian media of Chinese incursions along the border.

BBC correspondents say the fact that India has allowed the Dalai Lama's visit to go ahead is a sign of current tensions.

When the two countries enjoyed better relations, especially in the late 1990s, Delhi did not allow the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh or any area contested by China.



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