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Dalai Lama Will Not Meet with Australia Senior Government Officials - 2002-05-20

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will not meet any senior government official during his nine-day visit to Australia. The Dalai Lama supporters accuse the government of caving in to pressure from China as the Australian Prime Minister John Howard travels to Beijing for sensitive trade talks.

China says it has assurances from Australia that leading politicians will not meet the Tibetan leader during his tour of Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. The 66- year-old Buddhist leader is campaigning to free Tibet from Chinese rule, which was imposed in 1950. He's lived in exile in India since 1959.

He was the center of attention during his last visit to Australia in 1996, when he met both the Prime Minister, John Howard, and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. This time around, both are staying well away. The authorities blame scheduling problems and are insisting they have not buckled under Chinese pressure.

Prime Minister Howard will be in China during the Dalai Lama's visit, promoting economic ties and marking the 30th anniversary of relations between Canberra and Beijing. Mr. Howard told the Chinese media he met the Dalai Lama six years ago and saw no need for a second meeting.

On Monday, about 50 protesters waved Tibetan flags outside Mr. Howard's Sydney residence, urging him to meet the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, revered by Tibetans as Buddhist spiritual leader, won the Nobel Peace Price in 1989. His trip to Australia is his first since being released from hospital in February after treatment for a bowel infection.

If Australia's politicians don't want to see him many ordinary people do. More than 20,000 people crammed into an arena in Melbourne for the Dalai Lama's first public appearance on his visit to Australia.