China threatens Leeds Olympic base pull-out over Dalai Lama visit

 

Chinese officials have threatened to pull the country's Olympic athletes out of their training camp in Leeds due to a scheduled visit by the Dalai Lama to the city, it was reported today.

The Tibetan spiritual leader is set to address the Yorkshire International Business Convention on Friday but officials have asked Leeds City Council to pressurise the organisers into cancelling his visit, the BBC said.

The council distanced itself from the convention but said it was aware of "sensitivities" around the event.

Tom Riordan, chief executive of the council, said: "The Yorkshire International Business Convention is a private event not organised by Leeds City Council.

"Whilst we are aware of some sensitivities around this year's convention, as it is not a council event we do not feel it is appropriate for us to make any further comment."

The Tibet Autonomous Region is a self-governed province in China but many Tibetans have been campaigning for independence for decades.

Their political and spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and established the Tibetan government in exile in northern India's Dharamsala.

Many in the region and in exile claim Tibet was independent for centuries before the Chinese invaded in the 1950s.

But the Chinese government sees the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist and claims Tibet has always been part of its territory.

Chinese Olympic officials selected Leeds as the country's training base in August last year.

Around 300 athletes, coaches and support staff representing China in at least 11 sports will be based in the West Yorkshire city as they acclimatise to English conditions.

The initial direct financial benefit to the city of hosting the team is expected to be a minimum of £250,000.

The deal was agreed with the Chinese Olympic Committee by Leeds City Council, and is supported by the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University.

No-one from the Chinese Embassy or the business convention was available for comment.

PA

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