Blair provokes outrage over refusal to meet with Dalai Lama

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Tony Blair was accused last night of snubbing the Dalai Lama by refusing to meet the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader when he visits Britain in May.

The Tibet Society said the Prime Minister's refusal - because of "other diary commitments" - undermined British ministers' call to the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama.

"The Dalai Lama deserves better than Tony Blair's feeble fob-off response. He has set a model of peaceful governance that should be applauded, not shunned," said Philippa Carrick, the society's chief executive.

She asked why Downing Street had been been afraid to follow the example of George Bush, who received the Dalai Lama four months ago at the White House. Afterwards, he said that visiting the US President had been like encountering an old friend.

Mr Blair met the Dalai Lama when he last visited Britain in 1999, but the event sparked controversy after the Prime Minister refused to hold one-to-one talks. Downing Street made it clear at the time that the Prime Minister was meeting him in a "spiritual capacity" and not as a political leader.

During a visit to Beijing last month, Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office Minister, urged Chinese ministers to negotiate with the Dalai Lama's representatives as "the best way forward" to resolve the Tibet issue. The British Government recognises the autonomy of Tibet, which was annexed by China in 1950.

Downing Street confirmed last night it had received a letter requesting a meeting with Tony Blair. A spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has many, many requests from people to meet him in the course of a year and he obviously can't manage to see everybody."

The Dalai Lama will be making his first visit to Britain for six years in May. He will give public talks in London and Glasgow and visit Edinburgh and Dunfermline.

Last year, he complained there had been no improvement in conditions inside Tibet, despite his renewing direct contact with the Chinese government.

Ms Carrick said yesterday: "At this critical time for the world community, we must be seen to support those who don't resort to terrorism to fight for their human rights. Otherwise, what alternative is there to violence? If we ignore Tibet, we further the cause of global terror."

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