Dalai Lama Meets Tibetans in Taiwan as Poll Suggests Support

TAIPEI ~ The Dalai Lama met on Thursday with Taiwan-based Tibetans as a survey showed widespread support for his visit despite anger in China, which sees him as bent on independence for his Himalayan homeland.

Hundreds of followers crowded the lobby of the Howard Plaza Hotel in downtown Taipei while waiting their turn to be brought face-to-face with the exiled spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama, who is seen by China as a dangerous separatist bent on Tibetan independence, has said repeatedly his aim is to provide consolation after Typhoon Morakot, which hit Taiwan last month, killing at least 613.

“He has no plans to meet with political figures,” said Dawa Tsering, chairman of the Tibet Religious Foundation of the Dalai Lama in Taiwan, which is organising the trip.

“The purpose of the Dalai Lama’s visit is to comfort typhoon victims and to visit Buddhist faithful and Tibetan people in Taiwan,” he said.

China has announced twice it opposes the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan, an island which Beijing claims as its own although it has governed itself for six decades.

The Chinese government has further signalled its displeasure by cancelling several official delegations to Taiwan.

In an apparent bid to avoid upsetting China, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and several other ranking members of the ruling Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party have said they have no plans to meet the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama’s visit, which ends on Friday, has been more low-key than two previous trips to Taiwan, in 1997 and 2001, when he met several top political leaders.

Even so, public surveys suggested backing for the Dalai Lama’s ongoing visit among Taiwan residents.

The trip was supported by 75.4 percent of 709 respondents asked by the Public Survey Centre of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which invited the Dalai Lama. According to the same poll, 18.1 percent were against.

A poll carried out in late August by Apple Daily, a Taipei-based newspaper, showed 59.9 percent support of the visit, with 26.0 percent against it.

In a survey conducted by television network TVBS, 38 percent thought the timing of the trip was right, while 34 percent believed it was not.

As the Dalai Lama started receiving visitors on Thursday, dozens of protesters favouring Taiwan reunification with China appeared opposite his hotel.

“Give priority to typhoon relief. Oppose political manipulation,” they chanted, as they faced a sizeable police presence.

“We want the Dalai Lama to leave Taiwan as soon as possible,” said Tang Shu, the leader of the protest.

Before dispersing, the protesters handed a letter blasting the visit as a “political provocation” to a representative of the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama has been followed by protests since he stepped off his plane in Taiwan on Sunday, but has said that he welcomes them as a reflection of genuine democracy.

“As long as these people can express what they are thinking, and as long as they are not just saying what China wants, it shows that Taiwan democracy is healthy,” said Tsering, the foundation chairman.

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