Dalai Lama in Australia, but PM not to meet him

June 11th, 2008 - 11:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 11 (IANS) The Dalai Lama arrived here Wednesday to a warm reception from supporters, but Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will not meet him during his six-day visit to Australia. Rudd, who as opposition leader last year met the Dalai Lama, will not meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader during his fifth visit to Australia.

Allaying criticism by human rights groups for not scheduling a meeting with him, the prime minister told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that he would have met the Dalai Lama if he was not already committed to his overseas trip.

Rudd, who is on an official visit to Japan and Indonesian, is expected to return Sunday night and the Dalai Lama leaves Monday.

“I’ve met the Dalai many times before and there’s nothing remarkable in this. The invitation to meet him came to my office, therefore the acting prime minister and as I understand it the foreign minister will be catching up with the Dalai. He’ll be treated with the appropriate respect as a major religious leader in the world, and that I think is the right thing to do,” he told ABC.

However, Australia Tibet Council (ATC) campaign coordinator Simon Bradshaw said the council was disappointed.

Bradshaw said: “The prime minister has made his support for the Tibet-China dialogue known. He has called on China to reach a peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue through dialogue… it’s surprising that he’s not going to take this opportunity to meet with the Dalai Lama himself.”

Rudd had earned the ire of China earlier this year when in a speech in Washington he called on Beijing to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama in the interests of finding a peaceful resolution to the unrest in Tibet.

ATC executive officer Paul Bourke said: “The prime minister was quite outspoken during the recent uprisings in Tibet, even raising the issue strongly while he was in Beijing. It would have been appropriate for him to take the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama here.”

Bourke said that without sustained international pressure on China from countries including Australia, a unique opportunity ahead of the Olympics for Tibetans and Chinese to work constructively on a mutually acceptable resolution could be lost.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans, who will be acting prime minister on Friday and Saturday when both Rudd and the deputy prime minister will be overseas, and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith will meet the Dalai Lama later this week.

“This reflects the Dalai Lama’s status as an international religious leader and the significant domestic interest in the Dalai Lama’s visit, including from the Tibetan immigrant community in Australia,” a government spokesperson was quoted as saying in the media.

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson met the Dalai Lama Wednesday afternoon and discussed international and religious affairs with him.

“I think it’s important that as the alternative prime minister of Australia I meet with the Dalai Lama, who is one of the world’s most spiritual leaders,” Nelson told reporters here.

The 72-year-old Nobel laureate, who began a series of meditation lectures at the Sydney Olympic Park in suburban Homebush, attended by thousands of supporters Wednesday, told media and religious figures that he hoped to resume dialogue with the Chinese government about the end of the month.

About 50 members of a Buddhist splinter group, Western Shugden Society, protested against the Dalai Lama at the Sydney Olympic Park.

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