|Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama smiles during a function marking his 70th birthday at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharmsala, India|
Followers of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are celebrating his 70th birthday with a day of prayers in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama has lived in India since 1959, when he fled the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
About 10,000 Tibetan refugees, monks and foreign tourists braved pouring rain to gather outside the home of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. Traditional dancers greeted the Dalai Lama as he entered a pavilion decorated with Tibetan flags and banners honoring the man many say embodies Tibet's struggle for autonomy.
The Dalai Lama told those gathered that every day can be used to accomplish something positive. He also pledged that as long as he lives, he will continue to work in service of others.
A Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama is the unofficial head of Tibet's exiled government, which he helped found after fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. Since then, tens of thousands of Tibetans have followed him to India, fleeing what they say is Chinese repression and human rights abuses.
The Dalai Lama spent decades campaigning for Tibet's independence from China, which he maintains can be achieved through peaceful means. But in recent years, the exiled government has dropped its independence demand in favor of simply winning Tibet greater autonomy within China.
The Dalai Lama says he still hopes to return to his homeland. But that may not be possible.
Speaking in Beijing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao reiterated China's stance.
He said, Beijing has not changed its position. It has clear requirements. The Dalai Lama must clearly and publicly recognize Tibet as an inseparable part of China and Taiwan as an inseparable part of China and abandon so-called Tibet independence activities. Only then can the central government hold discussions on the issues of his personal fate or future.
Periodic talks between Chinese and Tibetan leaders have so far failed to bring any real results.
The exiled government has also charged that Beijing has undertaken cultural genocide in Tibet, by bringing about the migration of tens of thousands of ethnic Han Chinese to the region, tearing down historic buildings, and preventing the study of Tibetan history and language in schools.
The Dalai Lama is enormously popular in Dharamsala and throughout Tibet. Two more days of celebrations are expected to mark the Dalai Lama's birthday.