Dalai Lama leads Buddhist prayers on French visit

Other News Materials 12 August 2008 20:43 (UTC +04:00)

The Dalai Lama on Tuesday led a private prayer ceremony with 700 Buddhist faithful near Paris, as he officially launched his 12-day visit to France.

Beamed onto a giant outdoor screen, the Tibetan spiritual leader could be seen joking and laughing with the invited audience at the Yiga Tcheudzine temple in Veneux-les-Sablons, south of the capital.

Steering clear of any reference to the situation in Tibet, he issued a call for peace, dialogue between the different faiths and "human compassion" in an address to Buddhist followers, but also local officials and religious leaders, the AFP reported.

Travelling under close police escort, the Dalai Lama was to head later to the nearby town of Evry for the blessing of a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, home to Europe's largest pagoda, in the presence of 1,500 followers.

The 73-year-old Dalai Lama, who flew into Paris Monday as the Beijing Olympics got into full swing, has shelved plans to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy while in France for fear of angering China.

On Wednesday the Nobel peace laureate will hold closed-door talks with a group of 30 to 40 lawmakers at the French Senate, but no government-level meetings are planned.

Instead, first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy will attend the inauguration of a temple in Lodeve in southern France Friday next week.

The rest of his visit, which runs to August 23, will be devoted to religious visits in northwestern Normandy and Brittany and a six-day teaching cycle in the western city of Nantes.

Planned more than two years ago, the Dalai Lama's French visit suddenly turned political after a Chinese crackdown on unrest in Tibet in March that sparked international outrage.

Tentative plans for a meeting with Sarkozy were dropped, at the Dalai Lama's request, to avoid angering China and setting back talks between Tibetan and Chinese parties, Sarkozy's office and members of the Buddhist leader's entourage said.

Beijing, which accuses the Dalai Lama of fomenting unrest in Tibet to sabotage the Olympics, warned Paris a meeting would have "serious consequences" for bilateral relations.

France is struggling to mend ties frayed by Sarkozy's initial threat to boycott the opening of the Beijing Games, together with pro-Tibet protests during the passage of the Olympic flame through Paris that sparked a wave of anti-French protests in China.

France is home to an estimated 770,000 Buddhists, according to the French Buddhist union, three quarters of them of Asian origin.