Dalai Lama UK trip ruffles Chinese feathers

SALFORD, England Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:19pm BST

1 of 2. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama answers questions at a news conference in Manchester, northern England June 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble

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SALFORD, England (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama walked into an Olympic row with China on Friday on a visit to Leeds in northern England, the city chosen as the base for the Chinese Olympic team this summer.

The BBC reported that China had urged Leeds City Council to stop his visit and threatened to pull out of the city, but the council insisted the visit to address a business convention was private.

The report added that the row seemed to have blown over and there would be no boycott of the Leeds training camp.

It was the latest low-level diplomatic tussle between China and Britain since Prime Minister David Cameron angered the Chinese by meeting the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader in London in May.

China, which has ruled Tibet since 1950 when its troops occupied the country, considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, and last month told Britain's envoy to Beijing the meeting had "seriously interfered" with China's internal affairs.

Leeds City Council said in a statement: "The Yorkshire International Business Convention is a private event not organised by Leeds City Council.

"Whilst we are aware of some sensitivities around this year's convention, as it is not a council event we do not feel it is appropriate for us to make any further comment."

Leeds is due to host China's pre-Olympic training centre, with more than 200 athletes, coaches and support staff expected in the city from early July ahead of the London Games.

The 76-year-old Dalai Lama shrugged off the controversy, telling reporters Beijing's displeasure over his foreign trips were commonplace.

"That always happens. It's almost like routine," he told a news conference on Friday when asked about the report.

Chinese officials have snubbed British officials during trips to Beijing since the May meeting with Cameron.

"The Chinese have cancelled some high-level visits and meetings since the Dalai Lama's visit," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

"This is disappointing as we believe that it damages both Chinese and British interests. We strongly believe it is in the interests of both countries to manage our differences sensibly and cooperate as much as possible and look forward to doing so in future."

The Dalai Lama, who is on a short British tour to share his beliefs in non-violence and compassion with young people, was in London last month to receive a prize for affirming the spiritual dimension of life.

The Chinese embassy in London was not immediately available for comment, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Wednesday that politics and sport should not mix.

He blamed any deterioration of ties between Britain and China on the Dalai Lama's visit, but did not confirm that British ministers had been snubbed in Beijing.

"Not long ago the British side insisted on arranging for the British leader to meet the Dalai Lama; China has already expressed its extreme displeasure and resolute opposition," he said.

"The responsibility for the impact this has had on Sino-British ties rests solely on the British side," he added.

Cameron's office said at the time of the May meeting that the Dalai Lama was "an important religious figure" who had met previous British prime ministers.

The Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for Tibet, and says he wants merely "meaningful autonomy" for his Himalayan homeland.

Tibetan protests against Chinese rule have intensified in recent months, and a number of protesters have set themselves on fire.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, editing by Rosalind Russell)

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