Berlin denies snubbing Dalai Lama
Berlin has designated Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul to meet the Dalai Lama on behalf of the government during his upcoming visit to Germany, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The announcement came after news that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will not meet the Tibetan spiritual leader during his week-long stay from Thursday sparked criticism that Berlin was bowing to pressure from China.
Chancellor Angela Merkel - whose meeting with the Dalai Lama in September 2007 caused a deep chill in relations between Germany and China - is currently in Latin America and will not meet him either.
"The minister will meet the Dalai Lama on behalf of the government this coming Monday," government spokesman Thomas Steg told a press conference. He rejected the notion that the German government was being less welcoming than during his last visit for fear of another diplomatic incident, saying: "It gives me pleasure to be able to refute this criticism."
"We have been convinced that, despite the scheduling difficulties of several members of government, we should try to speak to the Dalai Lama during this visit to discuss the situation in Tibet and other provinces, as well as the situation ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing."
The government said the meeting would take place in Berlin but probably not at Wieczorek-Zeul's ministry itself.
The 1989 Nobel peace laureate was due to leave his home in exile in India Wednesday on a tour of Germany, Britain, the United States, Australia and France that will conclude days before the end of the Olympic Games.
He was expected in Germany on Thursday for a five-day visit, and will speak on human rights issues two months after riots erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, sparking a Chinese crackdown that has been widely condemned. He was also due to meet the speaker of parliament Norbert Lammert and two state premiers.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of fomenting trouble ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August - an allegation rejected by the Buddhist cleric, who fled to India after a failed anti-Beijing uprising in his homeland in 1959.
Berlin has pushed for direct dialogue between the Chinese government and Tibetan cultural and religious representatives.
Wieczorek-Zeul's spokesman said the German government welcomed talks this month between China and envoys of the Tibetan leader to try to defuse tensions in the aftermath of the violence in Lhasa as "a step in the right direction."
"You can expect us to continue pushing for further progress in this direction," he said.