Dalai Lama begins Russian visit
("BBC News," November 29, 2004)
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has arrived in southern Russia for a controversial trip to the region's Buddhist community.
He is spending three days in the remote region of Kalmykia, where about half of the population is Buddhist.
He has not been to Russia since the early 1990s and was only given a visa after some prevarication by Moscow.
China has opposed trips of this kind which it regards as lending credibility to the separatist struggle in Tibet.
Beijing sees Tibet as an integral part of the country and accuses the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, of being a separatist.
Russia's decision to admit the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is bound to generate some diplomatic flack with the Chinese government, says the BBC's Richard Miron in Moscow.
Beijing had cautioned the Russians not to admit the Dalai Lama, who was described as "not an ordinary spiritual figure".
Moscow has restated its view that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, and stressed that the trip was strictly religious in nature.
But in an earlier statement, its foreign ministry said: "At the same time, the Russian constitution guarantees people's religious right. We respect the desires of more than a million Buddhists in our country, who have repeatedly called for a Dalai Lama visit."
Russian Buddhists staged a number of rallies and signed numerous petitions demanding that the authorities allow a visit by the Dalai Lama.
Kalmyk Buddhists want him to consecrate a new monastery to replace those destroyed by the Soviet government, which deported the Kalmyk people to Siberia and central Asia for allegedly helping Germany in World War II, Reuters news agency reports.
The spiritual leader was exiled in 1959 and has become a powerful figure in Tibet's nationalist struggle against Chinese rule.