Dalai Lama blamed by Chinese after monks attack Tibetan rivals

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The Independent Online

China has accused the Dalai Lama of sabotage and provoking religious conflict after a group of Tibetan monks stormed a monastery near Lhasa and attacked statues of a deity denounced by the exiled leader.

Seventeen lamas burst into a chapel in Gandan monastery in March and tore down two clay statues of protective deities, claiming they were "evil spirits". They began fighting with six worshippers, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

The publication of a story about religious dissent in Tibet is a rare event in Chinese media. But the Beijing government wants to use the incident as a way of criticising the Dalai Lama, the most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism, whom many Tibetans regard as a god-king.

The Dalai Lama, 70, fled Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, nine years after Communist troops entered the remote, Himalayan country.

The Mayor of Lhasa, Norbu Dunzhub, accused the Dalai Lama yesterday of masterminding religious conflict. "It is by no means an isolated and accidental event. At face value, it is an internal affair within a monastery, but on a fundamental level, it was provoked by the Dalai clique whose purpose is to arouse conflict between different sects of Tibetan Buddism, thus sabotaging the unity of Tibet," he said.

Police were mobilised to prevent crowds of Buddhists from going to the monastery. Tibet has more than 1,700 places of worship and 46,000 Buddhist monks.

At issue is a complex matter of doctrine between the Dalai Lama and the much smaller Dorje Shugden stream of his Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The row has been going on for four centuries. In the 1970s, the Dalai Lama warned his followers not to worship Shugden, saying it was detrimental to spiritual health and to the cause of the Tibetan people. In 1996, he called on followers to reject the deity, calling it a divisive offshoot of Buddhism. Supporters of Shugden say his ban violates religious freedom.

Mr Norbu said it was the Dalai Lama and his supporters, not the Chinese authorities, who were restricting religious freedom because of his hard line on the deity.