Dalai Lama's visit to Scotland sparks controversy

The Dalai Lama is in Scotland as part of a UK visit

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Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has arrived in Scotland amid controversy over his visit.

He will embark on a two-day tour of three cities - Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness.

In Dundee, the Lord Provost Bob Duncan was accused of cancelling his speech at a specially arranged event on Friday.

The city council said SNP councillor Mr Duncan was not snubbing the Dalai Lama and would speak to the 76-year-old after attending a family funeral.

It emerged earlier this week that the Chinese consul general to Scotland had met with council leaders from all three cities scheduled for the tour.

The issue was raised during first minister's question time in the Scottish Parliament, where opposition parties claimed China had put pressure on the SNP government over the visit.

First Minister Alex Salmond visited China in December to strengthen trade, arts and cultural links after the arrival of two giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo.

Nicola Sturgeon was questioned about the visit at First Minister's Questions

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned parties not to politicise what was a "pastoral" visit, before saying that no UK government ministers were meeting the Dalai Lama during his trip.

A UK government source later pointed out that both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, met the Dalai Lama in May.

During question time at Holyrood, Labour MSP Jenny Marra said the Dalai Lama "had not been afforded a proper welcome" by the Scottish government or Dundee City Council.

Ms Sturgeon - standing in for Mr Salmond, who has been on a US trade visit - said: "There has been no discussion or contact whatsoever between the Scottish government and Dundee City Council about the visit of the Dalai Lama."

The deputy first minister added: "I think it is unfortunate if anyone in any party seeks to politicise the visit of the Dalai Lama to Scotland, and the reason for that is because it is not a political or a state visit - the Dalai Lama is making a pastoral visit to Scotland."

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The deputy FM was, if anything, more cautious still in responding to Willie Rennie who suggested, in terms, that there had been Chinese pressure placed upon the Scottish Government and local authorities to downplay the visit to Scotland of the Dalai Lama”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed Mr Salmond had displayed an "ambiguous attitude" towards the issue of China's human rights record.

He urged Ms Sturgeon to condemn practices in the country, which he said included detaining 500,000 people without trial and forcing women to have abortions.

Mr Rennie added: "We know the consul general has put pressure on Scottish councils and the first minister.

"Dundee has pulled back from the Dalai Lama's visit and the first minister is refusing to meet him."

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: "I condemn human rights abuses everywhere that they happen and I am absolutely unequivocal about that."

She said: "The lord provost is attending the reception for the Dalai Lama after he has attended a funeral," adding: "No UK government minister will meet the Dalai Lama while he is in Scotland - that of course would include (Scottish Secretary) Michael Moore and (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) Danny Alexander."

A Dundee City Council spokesman said the consul general's recent meeting was part of "a long-running programme of courtesy visits" he makes to cities in Scotland.

He added: "Contrary to reports, the council would like to make it clear that it has not withdrawn any invitation to the Dalai Lama to speak in the city.

The Tibet Divide

  • China says Tibet was always part of its territory
  • Tibet had long periods of autonomy
  • China launched a military assault in 1950
  • Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959
  • Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India
  • Dalai Lama now advocates a "middle way" with Beijing, seeking autonomy but not independence

"The Lord Provost will be going to the Caird Hall on Friday directly from the funeral he is attending and will be looking to speak to the Dalai Lama during his time in the city."

The Dalai Lama arrived in Edinburgh on Thursday afternoon as part of his Scottish visit, before holding a private viewing of archive material about Tibet during a visit to the National Library of Scotland on Friday.

He will then hold a talk at the city's Usher Hall with the theme "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World".

On Friday afternoon the spiritual leader will give the Margaret Harris Lecture on Religion at Dundee's Caird Hall, and on Saturday he will visit Inverness - where he will speak at Eden Court Theatre on the theme "Be the change".

The Dalai Lama, one of the world's most revered leaders, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and was awarded the £1.1m Templeton Prize last month at St Paul's Cathedral in London for his engagement with science and people beyond his religious traditions.

He has lived in exile in Dharamsala in northern India since 1959.

He passed the political leadership of exiled Tibetans on to an elected prime minister last year but remains the spiritual leader of the Tibetan community.

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