Dalai Lama visits Buddhist institute, pagoda

Aug. 12, 2008, 11:36 a.m. (ET)

EVRY, France (AP) The Dalai Lama skirted controversy over Tibet at the start of his 12-day trip to France on Tuesday, blessing a Buddhist institute and a temple, and offering a message of goodwill to China as the host of the Olympic Games.

The Tibetan spiritual leader is spending most of the duration of the Beijing Olympics in France, with only one political event on his schedule for now - closed-door talks with French lawmakers on Wednesday.

Though some of his supporters have protested Beijing's hosting of the Games, the Dalai Lama has sought recently to ease tensions and sent a message last week offering prayers and good wishes to the Chinese people before the opening of the Olympic Games.

He repeated that message Tuesday.

"I fully support the Olympics in China ... the People's Republic of China deserves to play host to the games," he said as he left a Buddhist temple south of Paris.

The first day of events following his arrival Monday was devoted to religious matters.

At a Buddhist institute run by an exiled Tibetan in Veneux Les Sablons, outside Paris, the Dalai Lama offered prayers and greeted the town's mayor and representatives of other religions.

Later, he gave a talk on affection, peace and nonviolence at a vast Vietnamese pagoda still under construction in Evry, south of Paris, addressing followers in front of a gold statue of Buddha. He made no mention of Tibet.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided not to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader while the Olympics are in progress. Sarkozy's office says the Dalai Lama did not seek a visit with him during his stay.

But Sarkozy's critics and human rights groups have accused the president of bending to Chinese pressure in order to try to secure major Chinese contracts for French companies - especially since Sarkozy decided to attend the Olympics opener in Beijing after threatening not to go.

French government spokesman Luc Chatel told France-2 television Tuesday that the Dalai Lama "said himself he thinks that it isn't necessarily the right moment, given the Olympic Games, for a meeting with the president," and that he and Sarkozy "jointly decided" to meet later this year.

Even some in Sarkozy's own UMP party, however, say the government is being too cautious about angering China.

Lionnel Luca, a UMP lawmaker who heads the study group on Tibet, told France Inter radio that the government engaged in "self-censorship" by receiving the Dalai Lama in a low-key fashion - behind closed doors in an office in the Senate - so as not to "displease" China.

"Our country must surely be occupied by Chinese troops because we are so afraid of displeasing (China)," the lawmaker said.

It will be difficult for the Dalai Lama to avoid the subject of Tibet entirely in France, especially at a news conference planned for Wednesday.

France has many pro-Tibetan and free-speech activists who protested in the streets as the Olympic flame passed through Paris in April on its world tour, angry about China's harsh crackdown on the demonstrations that erupted in March. Some Chinese called for boycotts of French products afterward.

During his stay, the Dalai Lama will hold a five-day teaching conference in Nantes, in western France. French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy will accompany him to the inauguration of a temple in southern France before his trip ends Aug. 23, a day before the Olympic Games close.

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