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Dalai Lama's trip angers China

The Dalai Lama is to risk angering China further by accepting a surprise invitation from the government of Taiwan to take part in a prayer meeting with survivors of this month's typhoon.

A spokesman for Tibet's Buddhist spiritual leader said details were being finalised and he hoped to travel to Taiwan as soon as possible, perhaps as early as next week.

A spokesman for the Beijing government's Taiwan Affairs Office said it "resolutely opposed" the decision by Taiwan's President to allow the Dalai Lama to visit "in whatever form and capacity," the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. The invitation was "an attempt to sabotage" the current good relations between the two countries, he said.

China still claims the self-governing island of Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war, as part of its territory.

Taiwan's President, Ma Ying-jeou, has made it a priority to improve relations with China, so the invitation, denounced by Chinese Communist Party officials, came as a surprise. Mr Ma stressed the visit would be purely religious and that the Dalai Lama could "help the souls of the dead to rest and also pray for the wellbeing of survivors".

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Takhla, said: "The Chinese must understand that his holiness is going to offer his support and to share in the sorrow."

Mr Ma's invitation may have partly been an attempt to placate public anger over what was seen as his government's slow response to Typhoon Morakot, which claimed 670 lives.