Noisy demonstrations target Dalai Lama on London streets
By Phil Hazlewood, AFP
May 23, 2008, 12:00 am TWN
LONDON -- Fervent supporters and angry critics of the Dalai Lama battled to out-shout each other in noisy and sometimes tense demonstrations Thursday, on the third day of his visit to Britain.
Three groups were protesting in central London — hundreds of Buddhists from a group opposed to the Tibetan spiritual leader chanted slogans yards from where pro-Tibetan and pro-Beijing demonstrators were kept apart by police.
"Dalai Lama, stop lying," shouted purple and yellow clad monks and nuns from the Western Shugden Society, Buddhists whose worship of a particular deity has been outlawed by the Dalai Lama since 1996.
The demonstrations outside the Royal Albert Hall came as the Dalai Lama was inside giving his first public address since arriving as part of a five-nation tour.
On Friday, he will meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who faces a delicate balancing act of supporting Tibetan rights while not offending the Chinese government.
Thursday's protests included a small crowd of exiled pro-democracy Tibetan supporters who waved aloft the sunrise flag of the ancient Himalayan kingdom.
Tshering Wangmo, a Tibetan who has spent the last 12 years in London, was outside the venue with her one-year old daughter and 10-year-old son as fellow supporters shouted "Long Live the Dalai Lama."
She told AFP that she wanted to bring her family and friends to see the Dalai Lama, 72, for the first time, and rejected the Western Shugden Society supporters' claims, denouncing their beliefs as "Tibetan witchcraft."
"There is only Tibetan Buddhism and we don't understand what they really want," she said.
"Most of them have been organized by the Chinese government. That's why they are here. Most of the banners are professionally made. How come so many of them are there?"
Instead, she called for all Tibetans to rally behind the Dalai Lama, adding: "We should be together and not split up."
But her call was rejected by hundreds of mainly Britain-based Chinese students who protested next to the exiled Tibetans, separated by a handful of police.
Among them was Hanwen Liao, an architecture research fellow at London's University of Greenwich, who told AFP that the Dalai Lama's visit was inappropriate so soon after the devastating earthquake in southwest China.
He rejected claims the five-nation tour was purely religious.
"Every time he comes on visits he only nourishes Tibetan secessionism. It is not a spiritual visit because he's meeting (Prime Minister) Gordon Brown," he said.
"It's hard to believe he's only coming for religious affairs, and we think it's very inappropriate for him to come at this time of sorrow, when the earthquake just took place and thousands of people just died."
Western Shugden Society member Kelsang Pama, who estimated that there were more than 1,000 Shugden practitioners, denounced the Dalai Lama.
"He is actually inflicting religious persecution on his own Buddhist community and the Tibetan in exile community also," said Bema.
At one point, one of the Chinese students took a Chinese flag and walked up and down in front of the Tibetans, triggering an angry reaction, but there were no physical clashes as the police looked on.