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Dalai Lama turns 70 in exile

Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala | July 06, 2005 20:06 IST

Thousands of Tibetans living in India offered a special prayer on Wednesday for the 70th birthday of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who said he was striving toward happiness as he marked the day.

More than 5,000 Tibetans and other guests bowed their heads as the Dalai Lama arrived at the Tsuglakhang temple in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala.

The widely revered Buddhist leader has been living in exile in India since he fled Tibet in 1959, eight years after China occupied his homeland.

"Every human being needs happiness. I am striving toward that," he said in a brief speech. "Different religions must come together to achieve peace."

'My religion is kindness'

He later applauded traditional dances by artists from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and students from the Tibetan Children's Village School in Dharmsala, the headquarters of his government-in-exile, 425 km northwest of New Delhi.

Thubten Samphal, a spokesman for the government-in-exile, said the Dalai Lama "has given us hope and pride. He has kept the Tibetan exiled community cohesive and has stressed ... education and democratic reforms."

Many Tibetans and their supporters abroad claim that China has abused the Tibetan people and tried to dilute their rich spiritual culture. Beijing says Tibet is part of China -- a claim the Dalai Lama now supports -- but China still considers his drive for more Tibetan autonomy to be a push for independence.

On Wednesday, Samphal said meetings held since 2002 between the Dalai Lama's special envoys and the Chinese leadership have not been futile.

"The very fact that the talks are on indicates that China is serious about resolving the Tibetan issue," he said. "We are confident that ... resolution will finally result, based on the middle way approach of the Dalai Lama."

Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan writer and political activist based in Dharmsala, said the Dalai Lama's emphasis on democracy was his most notable achievement.

"He has brought modernity in Tibetan people's thinking," Tsundue said. "He has not only introduced but successfully established democracy in a society which was not aware of the word democracy before. This is a radical change. This is a true cause for celebration today."

Tenam, a young Tibetan who goes by one name, said his people would be lost without the spiritual leader.

"Whatever hope we have today is because of him," Tenam said. "If he is gone, I can't imagine what would happen to the exiled community."

The new Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, marked the birthday of the Dalai Lama -- winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize -- with Tibetan dancers and a special display stand devoted to the spiritual leader.

On June 15, the Dalai Lama was among the first laureates to visit the center, which had opened just over a week earlier.

The center, a museum devoted to the peace prize and its winners, also seeks to draw attention to current conflicts and peace efforts.

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Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

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