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Dalai Lama prays, encourages democracy in Taiwan

Written By vibykhmer on Monday, August 31, 2009 | 6:10 AM


Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, center left, prays for victims and survivors of Typhoon Morakot, at the destroyed village of Shiao Lin, in southern Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama blesses survivors of Shiao Lin, the village hardest-hit by massive mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot early this month, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009, in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

By PETER ENAV, Associated Press

SHIAO LIN, Taiwan – The Dalai Lama said Taiwan should have "very close and unique links" with China but also enjoy democracy, as he arrived at a devastated village Monday to pray for victims of Taiwan's worst storm in 50 years.

Beijing has voiced its opposition to the Dalai Lama's visit, saying it could have a negative effect on relations between the mainland and Taiwan, which Beijing wants back after the two split six decades ago.

The Tibetan spiritual leader insisted his visit was a humanitarian one and that he had no political agenda, but in his remarks to reporters he encouraged Taiwan to preserve its democracy.

Kneeling on the ground above what was once the farming village of Shiao Lin, the Tibetan spiritual leader offered his prayers for the estimated 500 villagers who died in mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot in early August. The village is now an empty stretch of mud and scattered boulders.

Overall, some 670 were killed in the storm, and the Dalai Lama plans to lead a mass prayer ritual for them.

At Shiao Lin, he put his palms together in prayer while a monk next to him recited a Buddhist sutra. He then embraced two weeping relatives of Shiao Lin victims, holding their heads as he knelt on the ground and prayed.

Some 50 former Shiao Lin residents had returned to welcome him, many wearing T-shirts with pictures of the village before the deadly mudslides.

"We welcome him and we're very happy that he's here," said Liu Ming-chuan, 44.

The Dalai Lama also made brief remarks about the tragedy and about the invitation for his visit. He has said he had a moral responsibility to visit the victims.

He said he was not disappointed by President Ma Ying-jeou's refusal to meet him. "This is a humanitarian visit," he told reporters. "On my side, there is no political agenda."

"In any case, Taiwan should have very close and unique links with mainland China, but at the same time Taiwan also should enjoy democracy and prosperity," he added.

Communist Party-ruled China has long vilified the Dalai Lama for what it claims as his attempt to fight for independence of Tibet, which has been under communist rule for decades.

But instead of criticizing Ma for his visit, the spokesman for China's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office blasted Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party for its "ulterior motives to instigate the Dalai Lama, who has long been engaged in separatist activities, to visit Taiwan."

Taiwan's opposition had invited the Dalai Lama to comfort the typhoon victims.

The invitation came as Taiwan and China have dramatically improved their relations after decades of enmity. Ma has made closer business ties and cultural exchanges a signature issue of his 15-month-old administration.

Beijing has said it "resolutely opposes" the Taiwan visit, and a Chinese official for Taiwan affairs on Sunday night warned the visit "is bound to have a negative influence on the relations between the mainland and Taiwan."

A Taiwanese official said 70 Chinese athletes have decided not to attend Saturday's opening ceremony of the international Deaf Olympics in Taipei, but would still take part in the games. Emile Sheng, an executive of the games' organizing committee, declined to comment on media reports that the group was boycotting because of the Dalai Lama's visit.

Not all in Taiwan have welcomed the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Earlier Monday, some 20 demonstrators confronted him outside his hotel, saying the visit was short of bringing real disaster relief to Taiwan.

"I love it," the Dalai Lama told reporters in response. "It's an indication of freedom of expression. It's wonderful."

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