Dalai Lama calls on Taiwan to safeguard democracy

(AP) – The Dalai Lama exhorted Taiwan on Monday to safeguard its democracy, interspersing prayers for the victims of Typhoon Morakot with a challenge to Communist China.

The call from the Tibetan spiritual leader appeared to contradict assurances that his five-day visit to comfort the victims of the worst storm to hit the island in 50 years would steer clear of the political – a concern for President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, which is seeking closer ties with the mainland.

Kneeling on the ground to pray for the hundreds killed in this remote mountain village when torrential rains triggered two catastrophic mudslides earlier this month, the Dalai Lama acknowledged that Taiwan and China should maintain “their very close and unique links.”

However, he said, Taiwan should never lose sight of the importance of its democratic political system, which stands in marked contrast to China’s one-party dictatorship.

The trip has infuriated Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and resents any outside effort to influence its future. It is likely to be particularly irked by such comments from the Dalai Lama, whom it denounces as a “splittist” – alleging he seeks independence for his native Tibet.

The Dalai Lama’s comments were followed by a simple prayer service, in which he held his palms together as a monk next to him recited a Buddhist sutra. When the prayers were finished he rose slowly and embraced two weeping relatives of Shiao Lin victims, holding their heads in his hands as they knelt on the ground beside him.

His arrival on the island created a dilemma for President Ma, who in his 15 months in office has turned the corner on his predecessor’s pro-independence policies, reducing tensions across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest point in six decades.

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