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Russia Accepts Rare Dalai Lama Visit


The Dalai Lama was on the second day of his visit to Russia Tuesday to consecrate a new monastery in a southern Russian region that is predominantly Buddhist. The foreign ministry allowed the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader to come despite China's objections.

Thousands of Buddhist pilgrims flocked to see the Dalai Lama in the Kalmykia region despite freezing temperatures and heavy snow.

They had to walk about 2 kilometers across a field to reach the new monastery complex where the 69-year-old Tibetan leader sat inside a small temple.

The faithful crowded around to see the man considered the world's Buddhist leader, who blessed them in Tibetan.

Many of the faithful had traveled vast distances from Buryatia and Tuva, two other mostly Buddhist regions located in southern Siberia.

Kalmykia is a windswept, sparsely populated region in the lower Volga River area whose people are largely descendants of Mongols who swept across Asia and into Europe centuries ago.

This was the Dalai Lama's first visit to Russia since 1996, and came after Kalmykia's energetic leader spent years putting pressure on Moscow to grant him a visa.

On Friday the foreign ministry announced it would let the Tibetan leader come, but only on condition the visit "will be strictly religious in nature" due to sensitivities with China over the issue of Tibet.

The ministry stressed that Russia views Tibet as an "inalienable part" of China, and said the Dalai Lama would not meet any Russian officials. He flew directly to Kalmykia by private plane.

Nonetheless, Chinese officials reiterated their objection to the visit, saying it opposed any country having official relations with the Tibetan, adding that Russia "should have understood China's position on this matter."

The Dalai Lama has lived in northern India since he fled from Tibet in 1959, eight years after Chinese troops poured in to occupy the remote mountain kingdom that Beijing insists was always part of China.

There have been occasional overtures between the Dalai Lama and China aimed at resolving the long-time dispute over Tibet's future.

But Beijing still calls the Dalai Lama a "splitist leader" and objects to countries that allow him to pay visits.

Despite this various world leaders have received the Tibetan leader and encouraged China to make peace in a region where human rights groups say abuses against ordinary Tibetans still occur.

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