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US Congress to Honor Dalai Lama


The U.S. Congress honors the Dalai Lama later Wednesday in a ceremony on Capitol Hill attended by President Bush. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the Tibetan spiritual leader will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award conferred by the U.S. legislature.

Congress formally approved a Congressional Gold Medal for the Dalai Lama more a year ago, in recognition of what a resolution called his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights and religious understanding.

He will receive the award in a ceremony (Wednesday) in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, with President Bush and his wife Laura, congressional leaders, and fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel delivering remarks.

Tibetan cultural performances of dance and music will precede that ceremony, and the Dalai Lama will later deliver remarks outside the U.S. Capitol building.

The Dalai Lama joins a long list of figures who have received the medal, which is distinct from other high honors such as the Medal of Honor awarded to military figures, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Others recipients in recent years include Pope John Paul II, former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who flew during World War II.

The ceremony comes against the background of anger and protests from China, which demanded cancellation of the event saying it violates international norms and interferes in China's internal affairs.

President Bush had a private meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Tuesday.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino faced numerous questions about the symbolism of the president's attendance at the Capitol ceremony, and whether the honor for the Dalai Lama adds to tensions in the U.S.-China relationship.

"The president attends that ceremony, it is a special one that we have in American traditions," said Dana Perino. "The U.S. and the Bush administration has worked hard to have very strong relations with China on a variety of issues from trade to cooperation on many different issues, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We feel we have a very strong relationship with them and that will be maintained."

Perino added that China's President Hu Jintao was briefed about the ceremony honoring the Dalai Lama during U.S - China talks at the APEC summit in Australia earlier this year.

In an interview with VOA before the Capitol Hill ceremony, the Dalai Lama, who received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, said he also discussed with President Bush possible changes in the way future Tibetan spiritual leaders are selected.

The Dalai Lama also said human rights violations in Burma was a topic in his private meeting with the president, joined at one point by First Lady Laura Bush.

Last year's congressional resolution that set the stage for Wednesday's ceremony stated that the Dalai Lama has used his leadership to promote democracy, freedom and peace for the Tibetan people through a negotiated settlement of the Tibet issue based on autonomy within the People's Republic of China.