Tibetan Leader in Berlin German Minister Defends Meeting with Dalai Lama

Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul came under fire from members of her Social Democrat Party on Monday for meeting the Dalai Lama. She said she wanted to seize the opportunity to hear his view of the situation in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama in Berlin on Monday.

The Dalai Lama in Berlin on Monday.

The Dalai Lama rounded off his five-day trip to Germany on Monday by meeting with Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul before addressing a pro-Tibet demonstration at Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate.

The meeting with the minister in a Berlin hotel has caused a political row in Germany, with Wieczorek-Zeul being criticized from within her Social Democrat Party (SPD) for meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. However she has also been praised by many who had been appalled that the German government had seemed to want to placate the Chinese leadership by avoiding a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

His trip has exposed sharp divisions within Germany's coalition government. Last year's meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Tibetan leader had upset relations between Berlin and Beijing. The current visit coincided with Merkel's visit to Latin America but her deputy, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD, refused an offer to meet him. As foreign minister, it has been up to Steinmeier to smooth relations between the two countries through intense negotiations in recent months.

The Dalai Lama with Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

The Dalai Lama with Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

Wieczorek-Zeul had been harshly criticized by fellow members of the SPD, who argued that she was unnecessarily provoking the Chinese. According to an article in the Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag, SPD leader Kurt Beck was furious with her for agreeing to the audience with the Dalai Lama, but the minister was unapologetic about her decision. After Monday's meeting she said: "I took advantage of the opportunity to let the Dalai Lama inform me about the situation in Tibet, based on his point of view."

Speaking to reporters, she said that they had discussed the necessity for cultural autonomy in this context, "as well as the dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama." They also touched on human rights, the fight against poverty and globalization.

After the meeting she dismissed suggestions that she had met him as a private person, insisting she was there as a "representative of the government." She said she had discussed the matter with party boss Kurt Beck but would not comment on it in public.

Merkel's spokesman Thomas Steg said that the chancellor had not opposed the meeting, though she also had not been involved in setting it up. "She is completely agreeable to the meeting," he said.

On Monday afternoon up to 20,000 people gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to see the Tibetan leader speak. A number of bands are also due to play at the event. The Dalai Lama has been drawing big crowds during his trip to Germany, with 7,000 thronging to see him on Sunday in Nuremberg where he said: "We need all the different religions to serve the people, because the people are different and have different goals."

On Monday in Berlin the 72-year-old Nobel Peace Prize Laureate once again rejected Chinese accusations that he and his government in exile wanted independence for Tibet. "We don't want separation," he told the cheering crowd. The goal was true relgious and cultural autonomy within China.



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