Dalai Lama: China aims to annihilate Buddhism

Dharmsala, India - The Dalai Lama lashed out at China on Wednesday, accusing it of trying to "annihilate Buddhism" in Tibet and rebuffing all his efforts to reach a compromise over the disputed Himalayan region.

China shot back, accusing the Tibetan spiritual leader of using deceptions and lies to distort its policy in the region. The passionate back-and-forth highlighted the distrust, anger and frustration that separates the two sides and leaves little hope for success in recently resumed talks.

Beijing has demonized the Dalai Lama and accused him of wanting independence for Tibet, which China says is part of its territory. The Dalai Lama says he only wants some form of autonomy for Tibet within China that would allow Tibetan culture, language and religion to thrive.

The Dalai Lama spoke Wednesday in an address marking the anniversaries of two failed uprisings against China, one 51 years ago that sent him into exile in India and the other two years ago that was quashed by a government crackdown that is still continuing.

He accused Chinese authorities of conducting a campaign of "patriotic re-education" in monasteries in Tibet.

"They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace," he said, accusing Chinese of working to "deliberately annihilate Buddhism."

The Dalai Lama's remarks reflect frequent complaints by Tibetan monks that required political study sessions and visitor demands are depriving them of time for religious study. The numbers of monks attaining higher Buddhist degrees are believed to have fallen drastically since the crushing of the 1959 rebellion that resulted in direct rule from Beijing and the imposition of heavy government control over monasteries.

The Tibetan leader said that "whether the Chinese government acknowledges it or not, there is a serious problem in Tibet," but that attempts to talk to China about granting limited autonomy to the region had gone nowhere.

"Judging by the attitude of the present Chinese leadership, there is little hope that a result will be achieved soon. Nevertheless, our stand to continue with the dialogue remains unchanged," he told thousands of Tibetan exiles gathered at a temple in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama leads a government-in-exile.

While the Dalai Lama's language was strong and indicated the depth of his concern for the Tibetan clergy, his statement did not appear to indicate a change in strategy with regard to his relations with China, said Kate Saunders, communications director for the International Campaign for Tibet.

China's Foreign Ministry did not have immediate comment, but the official Xinhua News Agency, a government mouthpiece, issued a harsh commentary accusing the Dalai Lama of trafficking in "distorted facts" and "obstinate lies."

It mocked his claims about the oppression of Tibetan Buddhism as ignorant, telling him to "do some basic research and find out some truth about Tibet before pointing his finger."

The police presence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa has been heavy ever since the uprising and crackdown two years ago, but it was stepped up even more in recent days with rifle-toting police guarding intersections and demanding to see ID cards at checkpoints, hotel workers said.

"Because of the March 14 riot anniversary, police are patrolling in the streets every day, and they are conducting more checks," said Luo Wen, a receptionist at the Lhasa River Hotel.

Despite the tensions, Beijing reopened talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys in January for the first time in 15 months. But China was incensed when he met with President Barack Obama in the U.S. last month.

In Nepal, about 1,000 Tibetan exiles chanted anti-China slogans and waved Tibetan flags at a temple on the outskirts of Katmandu, the capital, as riot police deployed to keep protesters from marching in the streets.

"Stop killings in Tibet. We want a free Tibet," the demonstrators chanted. Police detained seven people at the temple for defying a ban on anti-China protests.

Separately, about 15 protesters who tried to break through heavy police lines and storm the Chinese Embassy visa office were stopped and detained by the police.

Waving Tibetan flags, these protesters ran toward the main entrance of the office located in the heart of Katmandu. They were quickly blocked the police and taken away in police vans to detention centers.

China, which sent communist troops into Tibet in 1950, claims the region has been Chinese territory for centuries. Many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time.