April 14, 2004

Tibet: Canadian Prime Minister stands by decision to meet Dalai Lama

Prime Minister Paul Martin will meat the Delai Lama next week, dispite the threath's of China
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Prime Minister Paul Martin vigorously defended Wednesday his right to meet with the Dalai Lama next week while his political organizers diffused the significance of the event by making it a broad spiritual get-together.

Mr. Martin was harshly criticized this week by Chinese authorities for meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. China accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist bent on undermining Chinese national unity.

Mr. Martin maintained that no one tells him who he can or can't see. "The Dalai Lama is a very important religious figure and I am looking forward to meeting with him," Mr. Martin said while on a tour of New Brunswick. "While I understand and respect China's concerns in this area, I am the Prime Minister of Canada and I will decide who I meet with and who I don't meet with."

Yet the session itself, set for late afternoon April 23, will be a muted event involving not only Mr. Martin and Dalai Lama but a group of community and spiritual leaders, the Prime Minister's Office said Wednesday. It won't be held at any official government site but instead at the home of the Rev. Marcel Gervais, Roman Catholic archbishop of Ottawa. "It's a spiritual meeting," said Justin Kingsley, a press secretary for the Prime Minister.

Federal officials have been careful to underscore the fact that the hastily arranged get-together won't be political in nature. The Prime Minister announced last Monday that he would meet with the Nobel prize winner even though the Dalai Lama's visit to Canada has been in the works for years.

Mr. Martin will be the first sitting Canadian prime minister to actually meet with the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India. "I am meeting with him as a spiritual leader and I believe it is my responsibility as the Prime Minister of Canada to meet with people of the significance of the Dalai Lama," Mr. Martin said.

The Tibetan spiritual leader arrives in Vancouver on Saturday and will spend three days there delivering religious and meeting with such luminaries as fellow Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu and Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn. He then flies to Ottawa for several days. The longest part of his Canadian visit will be spent in Toronto, where he will perform the Kalachakra ritual for thousands of devotees. He leaves Canada on May 5.

Source: Canadian Press (S. Cordon)