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Dalai Lama to Receive US Congressional Gold Medal

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will meet with President Bush in Washington Tuesday before being honored by the U.S. Congress in a ceremony on Capitol Hill. His visit is part of a month-long tour of North American cities. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports from Washington.

At Wednesday's ceremony, Congress will present the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian honor. President Bush will attend the ceremony. This will be the first time a sitting U.S. President will appear with the Dalai Lama at a public event.

The President also plans to meet privately with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader on Tuesday at the White House.

China has expressed its opposition to Congress's decision to honor the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of separatist activities.

But speaking in Washington on Friday, Special Envoy to the Dalai Lama, Lodi Gyari, said the award shows the Tibetan people they have not been forgotten and should be regarded by China as a positive step.

"I really feel very gratified that this will give yet another sometime for the Tibetans to continue to have more patience, to continue to remain nonviolent, continue to, you know, have hope so that some kind of result, you know, could be. So I think that this is very important. This is very important. In fact, the Chinese should be happy because it gives all of us some more space time, breathing space, you know, for us to sort out our differences," the envoy said.

China regularly challenges attempts by the Dalai Lama, a nobel laureate, to meet with world leaders. On Thursday a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said China opposes any country or person using the Dalai Lama to interfere in its internal affairs.

In September, China called German Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama a serious mistake and warned Berlin that the meeting had damaged bilateral ties.

But the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy says by meeting with the spiritual leader, foreign leaders have begun to send a message to the Chinese government that its effort to isolate him will not work.

White House spokesman Dana Perino said Thursday the Dalai Lama's visit to the United States should come as no surprise, since President Bush discussed the issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Asian Pacific Economic Summit in Austraila earlier this month. "We would hope that the Chinese leader would get to know the Dalai Lama as the president sees him, as a spiritual leader and someone who wants peace," she said.

The Congressional Gold Medal is being awarded to the Dalai Lama to recognize what Congress called "his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights and religious understanding." The medal's past recipients include Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.

The Dalai Lama has been living in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 during a failed revolt against Chinese rule.

China has long accused him of being a separatist, seeking to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama dismisses such claims, saying he wants autonomy not independence for the region.