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China Quickly Condemns Dalai Lama's Call for Referendum on Succession

The Dalai Lama says that his successor will be chosen outside of Tibet if he dies in exile. He also is considering different methods for that to happen, even before his death. That would be a break from tradition, in which a new Dalai Lama is chosen based on a decision by monks seeking his reincarnation. China, which controls Tibet, has been quick to condemn the plan. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Tibetans will hold a referendum to decide their future leadership. That is what the Dalai Lama told reporters at a religious conference in the Indian city of Amritsar.

"If I die today I think [there will be] some setback for the Tibetan peoples' struggle, that will happen. But eventually this is [a] national struggle, one ancient nation with rich cultural heritage. Therefore, you see Tibetan spirit will not go away with my death. That's certain."

The Dalai Lama, 72, added that when his health begins to decline "serious preparations" should be made for a referendum among all the traditional Buddhists in the Himalayan range and into Mongolia.

China has recently made it clear it wants the institution to continue, but that the next spiritual leader of the Tibetans must be approved by Beijing.

In a quick response to the Dalai Lama's comment, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the Nobel Peace prize laureate's statement a "blatant violation of religious practice and historical procedure."

China has ruled Tibet since Communist-led forces invaded the Buddhist land in 1951. Tibet's government in exile and its head of state and spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, have been based in the Indian city of Dharamsala since 1959.

An expert on Tibet-Sino relations, author and historian Claude Arpi, speaking from Mumbai, says the Dalai Lama's call for a referendum is a pre-emptive strike against China's intention to select his successor.

"It is a reaction to the Chinese statement that would decide ultimately, because they know that unless they control the religious leader of Tibet they will never control the people of Tibet," Arpi explained.

Arpi says the Dalai Lama, since 1963, has been leading the Tibetan people on the path to a democratic form of leadership and government.

"It is one of the hurdles in the negotiations between Beijing and Dharamsala, the fact that the Dalai Lama wants genuine democracy. He spoke about an elected president," he added.

China considers the Dalai Lama a political exile intent on splitting the communist nation. The Dalai Lama has reiterated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet, but rather autonomy under Chinese sovereignty.