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Dalai Lama Rejects Chinese Criticism of Monastery Visit

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Despite objections from China, which claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as its own, the Dalai Lama has begun a week-long visit to one of Tibetan Buddhism's holiest sites there.

The Dalai Lama, shortly after arriving at the remote Tawang monastery, lashed out at Beijing for its harsh criticism of his visit.

After being welcomed by thousands of cheering Buddhists on his way to open a museum at the centuries-old mountain top monastery, the Tibetan spiritual leader briefly spoke with reporters. They asked him about Beijing's accusation that the visit is part of his campaign to separate Tibet from China.

Dalai Lama: "That's quite usual wherever I go.

Reporter: "They're still opposing, saying it's anti-China, your visit to Tawang"

Dalai Lama:
"It's totally baseless."

The Dalai Lama first visited Tawang 50 years ago when he fled Chinese-controlled Tibet. Those half-century old memories, he says, are still emotional ones. He says he was mentally and physically weak, suffering from dysentery, during the rough journey into exile.

China, which invaded Tibet in the early 1950's, considers the region, mostly sandwiched between Bhutan, Burma and Tibet, to be an integral part of the Chinese nation. The Dalai Lama has lived in northern India ever since his escape in 1959.

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In an unprecedented move, seen as an attempt to soften Chinese criticism, India's government barred foreign correspondents - but not journalists with Indian citizenship - from entering Arunachal Pradesh to cover the visit.

Non-Indian reporters for the Associated Press, the New York Times, Washington Post and VOA were among those who had permits denied or revoked to enter the state. Local officials in Tawang and from the state government, however, said as far as they were concerned, foreign media were welcome to cover the event.

Indian media have reported several "incursions" in recent months by Chinese forces into the state. India's external affairs ministry has downplayed the border incidents, calling them "minor" and not out of the ordinary.

China claims nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh, including the monastery at Tawang, as part of its territory. When the communists came into power in 1947, they formally rejected a 1914 boundary accord agreed to by representatives of British-ruled India and Tibet.

Chinese forces penetrated deeply into Arunachal Pradesh during a 1962 border war with India, which made the territory into a state 25 years later.

Both India and China have made repeated pledges to gradually settle the territorial dispute by peaceful means.