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Dalai Lama May Visit Typhoon Victims in Taiwan

President Ma Ying-jeou says he will allow the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan next week, bowing to political pressure from municipal leaders in the typhoon-ravaged south. The Tibetan spiritual leader is expected to visit victims of Typhoon Morakot next week.

President Ma's decision to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan may risk new political friction with mainland China.

On Wednesday, leaders from seven municipalities in Taiwan's typhoon-ravaged south said they had jointly invited the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan to comfort storm victims. All are members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

In the southern port city of Kaoshiung, Mayor Chen Chu said that addressing the suffering of victims was more pressing than any political considerations with mainland China.

Mayor Chen says what is needed now is sympathy and empathy. She says that is beyond politics, even more important than politics, and that people do not want any political thinking now.

But the visit risks generating political friction with China. China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist working to undermine Beijing's authority in Tibet.

Beijing also claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which has been ruled separately since Nationalist forces fled there in 1949 after the communist army won China's civil war. China vows to eventually bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary

Since taking office in 2008, Mr. Ma's administration has pursued closer trade ties with China, and avoided actions that could anger Beijing.

Andrew Yang of Taipei's Council of Advanced Political Studies says the invitation from municipal leaders is a calculated political move.

"They are certainly taking advantage of the situation to advance their political interests. They are putting Ma in a very difficult position and at the same time denouncing his leadership," said Yang.

Taiwan is home to a large exiled Tibetan community and millions of Buddhists. The Dalai Lama visited Taiwan in 1997 and 2001. But Chinese authorities generally oppose his visits. Last December, Mr. Ma quashed hopes visit by Dalai Lama, saying the timing was wrong.

Typhoon Morakot, which struck August 6, was the deadliest storm to hit Taiwan in over 50 years. The government says more than 670 people are dead or missing.

Mr. Ma's popularity has plummeted and he has faced fierce criticism over how his government responded to the storm.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit from August 31 to September 3.