Alexa

Dalai Lama ends French trip with political touch

Dalai Lama ends French trip with political touch

The Dalai Lama wrapped up a high-profile visit to France that coincided with the Beijing Olympics by meeting behind closed doors with the French foreign minister following a religious ceremony Friday attended by the first lady.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, however, was conspicuously absent from either event. He and the exiled Tibetan leader may meet later this year _ but avoided what would have been a politically sensitive meeting during the Olympic Games.
Friday's ceremony was among the Dalai Lama's sole meetings with French authorities during his 11-day trip to France. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Human Rights Minister Rama Yade attended the religious ceremony, the inauguration of a Buddhist temple in the south of France.
Kouchner was the highest-ranking French official to meet with the Dalai Lama.
"I told him he would always be welcome in France," Kouchner told reporters after their talks.
Mathieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk of French origin who served as a translator during the trip, told reporters the "serious situation" in Tibet topped the Dalai Lama's meeting with Kouchner.
"Coinciding with the Olympic Games, there's a certain kind of extremely brutal repression that continues to reign," Ricard said.
The Dalai Lama wound a traditional white Tibetan scarf around the neck of first lady and former supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. She, Yade and Kouchner wore the long, silk scarves during the ceremony blessing the temple, in the town of Roqueredonde.
Although his visit to France centered mostly around spiritual matters, the Dalai Lama ratcheted up his criticism of the Chinese, accusing Chinese troops of firing at a crowd of Tibetans in China this week and saying people may have been killed during the incident.
In an interview with Le Monde daily released Thursday, the Tibetan spiritual leader accused China of imposing a new, long-term "plan of brutal repression" and building new military camps in Tibetan areas.
He also expressed disappointment that talks this year between his representatives and Chinese authorities about Tibet ran aground without breakthroughs.
Still, he expressed hope for progress after the Olympics, saying that perhaps France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, would press China for concessions in Tibet following the end of the Olympics on Sunday.
Sarkozy had piqued China's wrath earlier this year, when he spoke out against the Chinese crackdown in Tibet and threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The comments sparked protests at French-owned stores and businesses in China, and Sarkozy softened his rhetoric and ended up attending the ceremony.
Ahead of the Dalai Lama's visit, Sarkozy's office issued a carefully worded statement saying the French leader would not meet with him.
Sarkozy's cautious stance has angered pro-Tibetan activists and others in France.
Robert Menard, who heads the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, told a news conference Friday that the French leader had "lost his democratic honor."
Sarkozy "showed how well he is able to turn his coat," said Menard, whose group spearheaded protests calling for increased freedom of expression in China ahead of the Olympics. He warned that while "the repression has declined during the games, the worst is to come."
"The promises the Chinese authorities made about press freedom and the right to protest were an illusion," he said, adding that at least 47 foreign pro-Tibetan activists were expelled and at least 22 foreign journalists were detained or attacked during the games.
___
Associated Press writer Laurence Joan-Grange contributed to this report.