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Dalai Lama addresses 25,000 in Berlin

AFP · 19 May 2008, 21:15

Published: 19 May 2008 21:15 GMT+02:00

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"The 20th century was the century of bloodshed. I say the 21st century should be one of dialogue," he told up to 25,000 supporters gathered at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, many waving Tibetan flags. "Deep in our minds should be the interest of others. That is very, very

important. In that way we can genuinely build a peaceful world."

The words came at the end of the first leg of a five-nation tour likely to maintain pressure on China over its military clampdown on protests in Tibet in March, as the country prepares to host the Olympic Games. But the 1989 Nobel peace laureate held out an olive branch to Beijing, insisting that he is not seeking independence for the Himalayan region China annexed in 1951, but rather cultural autonomy.

"I see many Tibetan flags here. I want to make clear that is not to be considered something against China. This is not a separatist movement. We respect and support the five-star red flag," he said, referring to the Chinese standard.

Offering his condolences to the victims of last week's massive earthquake in southwest China, which has left more than 71,000 people dead, missing or trapped at the latest count, he said: "Let us pray and sing and express our condolences to the Chinese people. Let us share this sadness of thousands and thousands of Chinese who suffer due to the earthquake."

Earlier in the day, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader held talks with German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and met the foreign affairs committee of parliament. Both events drew protest from the Chinese government, eight months after a meeting between the Buddhist leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel caused a deep diplomatic rift with Beijing that has only recently begun to heal.

Wieczorek-Zeul said she had reiterated Germany's demands for direct talks between Tibetan representatives and China: "I stressed how important peaceful dialogue with China can be. The position of the federal government on this issue is very clear and I have stated it again here."

China this month resumed talks with Tibetan envoys in a move seen as a response to global condemnation of its crackdown on protestors in Lhasa, which Tibetan leaders say claimed more than 200 lives.

Beijing has countered that Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people and accused the Dalai Lama of being behind the violence. He has denied the charge, and began his tour of Germany last Thursday with an attack on China's response to the unrest, accusing Beijing of "suppression" and spreading "resentment" beyond Tibet's borders.

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Merkel's spokesman on Monday welcomed the Beijing-Tibet talks and said unhappiness over the Dalai Lama's reception here should not set back the process. "The Chancellor expressly welcomes the resumption of dialogue," government spokesman Thomas Steg said. "We do not believe that today's meeting will have a negative impact on the dialogue forming between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives on developments in Tibet and perhaps also in neighbouring regions."

The Chinese Embassy last week accused the Dalai Lama of "playing politics" in the run-up to the Olympics, and said Germany should have stopped his visit. "We object to a member of the German government receiving the Dalai Lama and to Germany allowing him to carry out this visit," Chinese official Zhang Junhui said.

The Dalai Lama will next visit Britain, Australia, the United States and France in a three-month Western tour ending in mid-August - just before the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will meet him next Friday but, unlike his predecessors, not in his Downing Street office - a decision that has drawn accusations that he is kowtowing to Beijing.

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