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Dalai Lama calls special meeting of Tibetan exiles

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[October 28, 2008]  DHARMSALA, India (AP) -- The Dalai Lama has called a special meeting of Tibetan exiles to discuss the future of their struggle as talks with China have foundered, officials said Tuesday.

The unusual meeting comes after the Dalai Lama told Tibetans on Saturday that he has given up on efforts to persuade Beijing to allow greater autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule and he would now ask the Tibetan people to decide how to move forward.

CivicThe five-day meeting, scheduled for mid-November, will be attended by representatives of all the Tibetan exile communities and political organizations, said Karma Choephal, speaker of the self-declared Tibetan Parliament-in-exile.

The meeting could mark a significant shift in the Tibetan strategy for confronting China, long dominated by the Dalai Lama's "middle way," which rejected calls for outright independence but argued that greater autonomy was needed to preserve Tibet's unique Buddhist culture.

"Anything can come up in the meeting," Choephal told The Associated Press. "The outcome of the meeting will have a democratic and moral bearing on the future thinking of the Tibetan leadership."

Choephal said the meeting would be held from Nov. 17-to-22 in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala, where the Dalai Lama has had his headquarters since fleeing Tibet in 1959 in the wake of a failed uprising against China.


He said this was the first time the Dalai Lama had called such a meeting since the exiles adopted their charter in 1991, which gave the government in exile the authority to speak on behalf of the Tibetan people.

On Saturday, the Dalai Lama told a public function in Dharmsala that he has "been sincerely pursuing the middle way approach in dealing with China for a long time now but there hasn't been any positive response from the Chinese side."

"As far as I'm concerned I have given up," he said in an unusually blunt statement.

China and representatives of the Dalai Lama have held seven rounds of inconclusive talks since 2002. After the last meeting in July, the Dalai Lama's envoy Lodi Gyari said China was not serious about resolving the Tibetan issue and unless they had a change of heart, future talks were "almost pointless."

Another round of talks had been scheduled for late October, but it was unclear whether the Tibetan spiritual leader's comments changed those plans.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said specific details of the talks were still under discussion, and that she had nothing to announce.

She said Beijing had made note of "some remarks" from the Dalai Lama, adding that China's attitude toward the Dalai Lama was "sincere."

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"There's a Chinese saying that we will judge a man not only on what he says but also what he does," Jiang said. "We hope through contact, the Dalai Lama will better understand the situation, demonstrate sincerity and do something good for the Tibetan people in his lifetime."

The surprising move from the 73-year-old Nobel peace prize winner comes at a tumultuous time for the Tibetans.

In March, peaceful demonstrations against Chinese rule in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, spiraled into violence. Beijing says 22 people were killed in the riots, in which hundreds of shops were torched and Chinese civilians attacked.

China then launched a massive crackdown in Tibet and a broad swath of Tibetan regions in the country's west. Tibetan exile groups said at least 140 people died. More than 1,000 people were detained, although human rights groups say the number could be higher.

The Dalai Lama, who is deeply revered among Tibetans, was hospitalized in August and October with health problems and had to cancel a series of trips abroad. Doctors said he was suffering from exhaustion. He had gallstones removed before doctors pronounced him healthy.

Many Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.

[Associated Press; By ASHWINI BHATIA]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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