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    Dalai Lama Visits Taiwan Typhoon Victims

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    The Dalai Lama is visiting typhoon-devastated villages in southern Taiwan, offering his prayers for villagers killed by mudslides.  The Tibetan religious leader also says Taiwan should build closer relations with China, while enjoying its democracy and prosperity.

    Kneeling in the baking sun in what was the village of Hsiao Lin, the Dalai Lama prayed for the villagers killed by mudslides that followed Typhoon Morakot earlier this month.  The village is now an empty stretch of mud, and many of the storm's estimated 500 victims sill lie buried there.
     
    The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said his visit is humanitarian, not political.   A public speech he had been scheduled to give in the Taipei suburb of Taoyuan on Thursday was canceled without explanation.  Officials in President Ma Ying-jeou's Kuomintang Party have expressed their wishes for the Dalai Lama to avoid political activities while in Taiwan, and he has appeared willing to comply.
     
    Earlier Monday, about 20 demonstrators confronted him outside his hotel, saying he was not bringing real disaster relief to Taiwan.  Asked about the incident later, the Dalai Lama said simply that he supported their right to protest.
     
    "I love it.  It is an indication of freedom of expression," he said.  "It is wonderful."
     
    The Dalai Lama also said he was not disappointed by President Ma's refusal to meet him.  Mr. Ma, who has pledged to improve relations with the mainland Chinese government, may have chosen not to meet the Dalai Lama to avoid angering the Beijing leadership.

    China's communist government has long vilified the Dalai Lama for what it calls his effort to create an independent Tibet.  China also claims separately governed Taiwan is a renegade province, making the Dalai Lama visit especially sensitive for Communist Party officials.

    The Beijing government has expressed displeasure at the visit to Taipei, but not forcefully.

    After he arrived Sunday in Taipei, the Dalai Lama said he is not seeking independence for Tibet and praised Taipei's efforts to improve relations with Beijing.

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