04-24-2004, 01:06 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: ON Canada
Local Time: 03:56 PM
Dalai Lama and Canadian PM
By JEFF SALLOT
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Ottawa — Prime Minister Paul Martin yesterday became the first Canadian head of government to meet the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of more than six million Tibetans, but the event took place in cloistered surroundings with only clerics present.
The Prime Minister's Office went to great lengths to keep the meeting low key, brief and devoid of any substantive discussion of the Dalai Lama's political struggle with the Chinese vernment.
Nevertheless, leaders of the Tibetan community in Canada said the meeting was a historic first step, and they will keep the pressure on the Martin government to intercede on the Dalai Lama's behalf with Beijing.The revered Buddhist monk, who has lived in self-imposed exile for most of his life, emerged from the five-minute meeting with a broad grin for the cameras.
Asked how things had gone, he simply said, "Very good, very good."Mr. Martin was also uncharacteristically brief when he came out a few minutes later.
"It was a unique experience," he said.
The two managed to cover a wide range of subjects in a short period of time, including the state of human rights in Tibet, Mr. Martin added.The Prime Minister said the Dalai Lama's message of mutual respect and understanding among people of all beliefs and ethnic groups is a particularly important one for Canadians at the moment because of several recent ugly events, including the arson at a Montreal Jewish school library and the desecration of Jewish graves in southern Ontario."We have always been a nation of great mutual respect and understanding and for the Dalai Lama to come here and remind us of that fundamental value is very, very important."Mr. Martin did not take questions from reporters, who had been excluded from the meeting.
A small group of supporters of Tibet cheered Mr. Martin and chanted "Thank you, thank you," as the Prime Minister climbed into the back seat of his limousine.The meeting was held at the official residence of Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Gervais. A limited number of photographers and TV camera crews were allowed in to record the handshakes. Mr. Martin and the Dalai Lama exchanged ceremonial white silk Tibetan scarves, a traditional mark of friendship.Mr. Martin joked that the one he received from the Dalai Lama was better than the one he gave to the holy man.Then the journalists were ushered outside.
The Chinese government says the Dalai Lama promotes Tibetan secession from China and urges foreign leaders not to meet with him.Canada has a long and generally friendly relationship with the Chinese Communist government. The PMO agreed to the meeting only if it could be couched in terms of a visit with a spiritual leader. Archbishop Gervais agreed to play host.
The Dalai Lama broke the ice by saying he hoped his visit to Canada was not causing any political difficulty for the government, a senior PMO official said afterward.
"Mr. Martin replied 'Not at all,'." the official said.
"It was very friendly and very warm," Archbishop Gervais said. "The appreciation of the Prime Minister and myself was clear. We appreciated him and we wanted to do something for him and his people."
Throughout his tour of Canada the Dalai Lama has said he does not want to divide China, but he expects Beijing to live up to commitments to allow a high level of autonomy in Tibet to preserve its ancient culture.The Dalai Lama was "very respectful of China" and stressed that Tibet's struggle is non-violent, Archbishop Gervais said.The meeting was followed by a larger ecumenical prayer service which went on for about an hour, with about two dozen clerics representing Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Algonquin aboriginal and other spiritual traditions. Mr. Martin is a practising Catholic.Tenzin Dargyal, a spokesman for the Canada-Tibet Committee, said the group believes Canada can play an important role in promoting political dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his followers and the Chinese government."Canada is a genuine friend of China. They just need to use that friendship and give China a face-saving way to solve the Tibet problem,'' Mr. Dargyal said, suggesting Mr. Martin could be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize if he made the effort.
"This meeting today is a very good first step," Mr. Dargyal said.
Earlier in the day, Canadian human-rights activists urged Mr. Martin to be more open and vocal in speaking out for religious and other human rights in Tibet."Many of us are deeply concerned by the public silence of the Canadian government," said Jean-Louis Roy, president of the Montreal-based group Rights and Democracy. "This silence is unacceptable when cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing continues in Tibet."
The Dalai Lama told the rights activists he appreciates their support and he senses that conditions in China are changing. "We are not seeking independence. We are not seeking separation."But Tibetans need "meaningful autonomy" to preserve their culture, spiritual tradition and delicate ecology," he said