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Officials scramble to meet Dalai Lama

Spiritual tour turns political as ministers and opposition announce meetings while Sarkozy sets a date in December.

THE Chinese government has called on France to behave prudently as politicians scramble to meet the Dalai Lama.

Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Human Rights Minister Rama Yade have both announced trips to see the spiritual leader of Tibet on his visit to France.

President Sarkozy has announced that he will meet the leader in December but stressed that the Dalai Lama himself had not wanted an official encounter during the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The president’s office had previously stressed that the tour of France was chiefly a spiritual and not a political visit.

Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni is due to attend a ceremony presided over by the Dalai Lama at the opening of a new Buddhist temple in Roqueredonde in the Hérault on August 22, although she carries no official state role.

The Chinese government announced that any meeting between the French and Tibetan leaders would cause diplomatic problems and asked the French government to behave ‘prudently’.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said Bernard Kouchner’s meeting could not have been arranged earlier due to the developing hostilities between Russia and Georgia.

Former socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal will visit the Lama in Nantes on Saturday.

Earlier this week the Dalai Lama gave a speech to MPs and senators in a closed session.

The decision to bar the public and media was criticised by MPs as bringing the Nobel Peace Prize holder in ‘through the back door’.

The French media claimed it was an example of the government extending its ‘minimum service’ policy for schools and transport into the arena of diplomacy.

A survey taken before the visit of the Dalai Lama found that 78% of French people supported a meeting between him and the French President, while the Chinese government expressed concern.

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