Fears for Panchen Lama's safety

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The Independent Online
The Dalai Lama says he is "really concerned about the poor boy's safety," referring to six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, son of a Tibetan nomadic herdsman. The boy, whom he named earlier this year as the 11th Panchen Lama, has not been seen since July. Meanwhile, the rival six-year- old recently chosen by China, Gyaltsen Norbu, has performed his first "official" duties.

"Perhaps he is the youngest political prisoner," the Dalai Lama said of little Gedhun. He also feared for the lives of the boy's parents and those of the Buddhist monks who support him, he added.

China's choice presided over a two-hour ceremony last Friday at the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, in Shigatse, west of Lhasa. There, monks and the faithful paid homage to the alleged reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama - the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism - who died in 1989. Tibetan exiles say most people will support the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama.

During the ceremony, the boy prayed, accepted gifts of coloured grain, blessed monks and presented hadas - long white scarves - to the temple's huge Maiyuiri Buddha statue. He also visited the hall for the founder of the Yellow Sect of Buddhism, and the stupas for the 10th, 9th and 4th Panchen Lamas. Security around the Dalai Lama is being stepped up in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala after three people were arrested for allegedly spying on the spiritual leader.

Luciano Pavarotti singing the blues? He may well be. The Italian tenor has received an unpleasant Christmas gift from the Belgian authorities: a bill for $33,000 (pounds 22,000) in unpaid taxes. Belgian newspapers say the money is due from concerts Pavarotti gave in the country five years ago.

From California, the state that gave the world such political greats as Congressman Richard ("I am not a crook") Nixon and Congressman Sonny ("I got you, babe") Bono, comes Janique Kilkeary ("I am a lady") Goff- Madison. Known as Mistress Madison, the congressional candidate of the new Reform Party wants to whip the US House of Representatives into shape. Newt Gingrich, watch out.

Madison runs a variety of "adult" businesses. "It's not a question of what I do for a living, but what I represent," she said. "Our government should get out of our businesses, out of our bank accounts and out of our bedrooms."

She got into politics to help to improve the economy, she explained, because some of her clients could no longer afford her $300-an-hour services. If she makes it to Capitol Hill, Madison won't turn up in leather, whips and chains. "I do not wish to turn this into a circus," she said. "The American public does not need any more jokes."

Well, maybe just one joke: Congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado points out that Newt Gingrich's approval ratings have fallen so low lately that his supporters are now fewer than the number of people who believe Elvis Presley is still alive.

Maryann Bird