World

Dalai Lama supports China Olympics, but also right to protest

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says he supports China's hosting of the Olympics in Beijing, but that those who don't are entitled to engage in non-violent protest of this summer's Games.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says he supports China's hosting of the Olympics in Beijing, but that those who don't are entitled to engage in non-violent protest of this summer's Games.

He made the comments Thursday following days of global protests over China's actions in Tibet, where anti-government demonstrations became violent last month. Many of the protests have been staged during pre-Olympic events, including this week's Olympic torch relay, with some demonstrators calling for a boycott of the Games.

"I support Chinese host of famous world [Games] because China is the most populated nation, an ancient nation, therefore, it is really deserved for the Chinese people to make host of Olympic Games. Until today, in spite of recent unfortunate events in Tibet, my position [is] not changed," the Dalai Lama told reporters during a layover in Japan en route to the United States. 

The European Parliament passed a resolution Thursday calling on European governments to consider a boycott of the Olympics' opening ceremony in August if China doesn't resume talks with the Dalai Lama to end the stalemate.

The Dalai Lama said he is not "anti-Chinese" and has always supported the Olympic Games in Beijing.

"I really feel very sad the government demonizes me. I am just a human, I am not a demon."

The Chinese government has consistently accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging and even planning the protests in Tibet and neighbouring regions — a charge the spiritual leader has denied. The Dalai Lama said Thursday he does not support violent protest, but that dissenters must be allowed to exercise their right to free speech.

"The expression of their feelings is up to them," he said. "Nobody has the right to tell them to shut up. One of the problems in Tibet is that there is no freedom of speech."

The Tibetan government in exile's prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, said his government doesn't support the disruption of the Olympic torch relay and would like to see a peaceful resolution to its dispute with China.

"If [Chinese officials] are wise enough, some path for reconciliation might be opened," Rinpoche told reporters in New Delhi, where he addressed thousands of protesters on Thursday. "If they remain rigid, the movement will not end and it will sustain by itself."

Roughly 200 protesters had marched to New Delhi from Dharmsala, the seat of Tibet's government in exile and home to the Dalai Lama. The other demonstrators arrived from neighbouring states.

Torch run focus of protests

Protesters opposed to China's policies on Tibet, Darfur and its overall human rights record have taken centre stage as the Olympic torch began its circuit around the globe last week.  

The Paris segment of the relay had to be suspended at least five times as demonstrators threatened to halt the torch run. Earlier in London, police repeatedly scuffled with protesters, including one who tried to grab the torch while another tried to snuff out the flame.

On Wednesday, the parade route in San Francisco was changed at the last minute and shortened by almost half to avoid anti-China protesters. The planned closing ceremony at the waterfront was cancelled and instead the torch was whisked straight onto a plane at the international airport.

The next destination for the torch on its 21-stop, six-continent tour is Argentina. Then it continues to a dozen other countries, including India, where it is expected to face more demonstrations.

Torch run will go on: IOC head

The head of the International Olympic Committee said he was relieved that the San Francisco leg of the torch relay passed without major incident and is confident the Beijing Games will rebound from the relay "crisis."

"This scenario is definitely not on the agenda," Jacques Rogge said Thursday at a news conference in Beijing, referring to the mass demonstrations. "We are studying together with [Beijing organizers] to improve the torch relay, but there is no scenario of either interrupting or bringing [the torch] back directly to Beijing."

Rogge said that during the bidding process, he was assured by Chinese officials who said the Olympics would help advance social change, including human rights. He called it a "moral engagement" but stressed there was no "contractual promise whatsoever" on human rights in the official contract.

"I would definitely ask China to respect this moral engagement," Rogge said.

Plot to kidnap athletes busted: police

Meanwhile, a Chinese official Thursday said authorities had broken up a criminal ring planning to kidnap athletes and other people during the Beijing Olympics, scheduled to run Aug. 8-24.

Ministry of Public Security Spokesman Wu Heping said 35 people were arrested between March 26 and April 6 in the western Xinjiang region for plotting to kidnap athletes, foreign journalists and other visitors.

With files from the Associated Press

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