China toll "will be more than 50,000'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The death toll from China's massive earthquake could reach more than 50,000, the official Xinhua news agency reported today, quoting rescue headquarters.

Already some 20,000 are confirmed dead as a result of Monday's 7.9 magnitude quake, but tens of thousands more remain buried in rubble in areas of the worst-hit province of Sichuan that rescuers are only just beginning to reach.





The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, today expressed sadness at the deaths of at least 20,000 Chinese in an earthquake and announced a prayer meeting for the victims.

He arrived in Frankfurt to begin a five-day tour of Germany, his first visit to Europe since unrest in Tibetan areas of China in March triggered riots, killings, mass arrests and accusations by Beijing that the Dalai Lama was responsible for the uprising.

"(The Chinese earthquake victims are) also human beings, (they suffer) the same pain so as soon as we heard that and also saw pictures ... in Dharamsala, we really felt very, very sad," he said at an impromptu news conference shortly after landing.

"And we are going to organise a prayer meeting, I think today or tomorrow, in Dharamsala," he said.

Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled the region in 1959 after a failed uprising against communist rule and is now based in Dharamsala in India. He calls for more autonomy for Tibet rather than full independence.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama held talks with Chinese officials this month. The exiled Tibetan leader said today that he hoped Chinese President Hu Jintao would show "more seriousness" about the meetings.

"Hopefully, eventually, some genuine constructive understanding of the discussion can take place," he said.

A political row has erupted in Germany over the visit as senior figures including Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President Horst Koehler have declined to meet the Dalai Lama.

They may have been put off by the storm which erupted last year when Chancellor Angela Merkel received him in Berlin and soured relations with China for months.

Merkel will not meet the Dalai Lama this time as she is travelling to Latin America. However, the government has announced that cabinet minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, responsible for development issues, will meet him on Monday.

The news drew criticism from the Chinese embassy in Berlin.

"The Dalai Lama is a political griper who has been engaged in separatist activities for a long time," said an embassy spokesman, adding any meeting with a member of the German government would be a "wrong signal".

Comments