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Taiwan's government approves visit from Dalai Lama

Taiwan said Thursday it has agreed to let the Dalai Lama visit the island to comfort survivors of a devastating typhoon, a decision that could anger China.
Beijing considers the Buddhist spiritual leader a "splittist" for promoting autonomy in the Chinese region of Tibet. Allowing him to visit Taiwan could undermine the rapidly improving relations between Beijing and Taipei, rivals which are developing close business ties after decades of enmity.
China claims self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory, though they split amid civil war in 1949.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou made the surprise announcement Thursday when he visited a school in Nantou County that was destroyed in mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot when it hit Aug. 8-9. The storm claimed 670 lives.
"The Dalai Lama could come to Taiwan to help rest the souls of the dead and also pray for the well-being of the survivors," Ma said.
On Wednesday, leaders of seven municipalities recently hit by Morakot issued a joint statement inviting the Dalai Lama to visit storm victims from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.
The invitation from the leaders _ all from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party_ comes as Ma faces criticism that he botched the government's response to the island's deadliest storm in 50 years.
The Dalai Lama has made three visits to the island over the past 12 years.
On Wednesday, Tenzin Takhla, the spiritual leader's spokesman in Dharmsala, India, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the Dalai Lama has accepted the invitation "in principle."
Last December, Ma nixed plans for a Dalai Lama visit in what was largely seen as a move to placate Beijing. Improving relations between China and Taiwan has been the signature issue of Ma's presidency.