Dalai Lama attacked over stand on fiery protests
The mainland's top official newspaper lambasted the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, yesterday for condoning a spate of self-immolations by his followers to protest against Chinese rule, accusing religious figures close to him of leading them towards 'religious extremism'.
The commentary in the overseas edition of the People's Daily also accused the 'Dalai Lama separatist clique' for inciting unrest across Tibet, such as the riots in March 2008 which left at least 18 people dead. It charged that it has led followers towards 'religious extremism' - a 'cancer' that will grow to undermine state security and stability.
It criticised the Dalai Lama for failing to call on Tibetans to refrain from self-immolation and instead joining a fast last month in solidarity with people who protested by setting themselves alight. 'The Dalai Lama, who has always preached the non-violence principle, has said nothing to stop the self-immolations in his capacity as a religious elder, but has ... given his support for these acts,' it said. The commentary is seen as a tit-for-tat move after the Dalai Lama and a senior monk recently blamed hardline Chinese policies for the Tibetans' deadly protests.
At least 11 monks, nuns and laymen have set themselves on fire in the predominantly ethnic Tibetan area of Aba in Sichuan since March, Kyabje Kirti Rinpoche, the exiled chief abbot of the Kirti monastery, said last week. He said six died but stressed that he had no power to stop more people from resorting to such drastic acts.
The Dalai Lama told a news conference last month that the desperate conditions Tibetans face under Beijing's iron-fisted rule were behind the self-immolations, adding that 'some kind of cultural genocide is taking place', Reuters reported.
The foreign ministry has said the Dalai Lama's refusal to condemn the self-immolations was 'terrorism in disguise' and said he has 'played up such issues to incite more people to follow suit'.
'Those self-immolations are a political conspiracy by people who dream of using 'Tibet independence' to split China ... they are sacrificing the young lives to fabricate 'religious persecution' to hurt the Chinese government's [reputation] and to attract international attention,' it said.
Thubten Samphel, a spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile, rejected the accusations and blamed Beijing for not meeting Tibetans' demands to allow the Dalai Lama to return and allow them to practise their Buddhist faith freely.
'There is no encouragement from our side for the Tibetan people to self-immolate,' he said. 'They have been forced to do this because they want to see his holiness the Dalai Lama return to his people in Tibet and they want freedom. 'The crux of the matter is the nature of Chinese rule in Tibet ... if their policies are changed, no one in their right mind would willingly set themselves on fire.'
State press said this week that the government would start paying pensions and welfare benefits to Tibetan monks and nuns over the age of 60 - in an apparent bid to appease them.