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Tibetans Mark 80th Anniversary of Dalai Lama Enthronement

FILE PHOTO: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gestures as he arrives at a hotel in Darmstadt, Germany, Sept. 18, 2018.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is celebrating the 80th anniversary of his enthronement Saturday.

The 14th Dalai Lama, who was born Lhamo Thondup, was just a toddler when he was identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor. Tibetan Buddhists believe that senior Buddhist monks can after death choose to be reborn in the body of a child.

The Dalai Lama was enthroned as Tibet's most important spiritual leader on Feb. 22, 1940, at the age of 4.

Since then, he has been a spiritual leader to Tibetans, strongly advocating nonviolence and winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts to bring about an autonomous Tibet.

Born in Tibet in 1935, the 85-year-old spiritual leader has spent most of his life in neighboring India. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and now lives in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala, where his supporters run a government-in-exile.

The Dalai Lama said he is seeking greater autonomy for his remote mountain homeland and not independence, while China accuses him of being a dangerous separatist. China has used its influence on the world stage to urge international leaders not to meet with the spiritual leader.

In April 2019, the Dalai Lama was admitted to the hospital in the Indian capital of New Delhi with a chest infection and has since reduced his public audiences. However, aides said he is doing well.

The question of the next Dalai Lama’s reincarnation has political implications. China has said its leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama's successor, as a legacy inherited from China's emperors.

However, the Dalai Lama’s own website said that a person who reincarnates has “sole legitimate authority” over where the rebirth takes place and how the reincarnation is recognized.

The Dalai Lama himself has made several statements about his next rebirth, saying he might choose not to be reincarnated at all, and also saying that if he does choose to take rebirth, it will be in a free country.