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Taiwanese President Says He Will Not Meet Dalai Lama


Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou says he will not meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit to the storm-devastated island next week.

President Ma's office made the announcement Saturday, a day before the expected arrival of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama has been invited by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party for a five-day visit with the victims of typhoon Morakot. The invitation has provoked an angry reaction from Beijing, which accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to split Tibet from China -- something the Tibetan spiritual leader denies he is trying to do.

Kaohsiung's mayor yesterday defended her decision to invite the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan to pray for the victims of Typhoon Morakot, denying that there was a hidden political agenda. Mayor Chen Chu said she only wants to comfort the victims, as Morakot resulted in a huge disaster for Taiwan, with hundreds of people still buried in mud and rocks -- presumably dead already.

Chen also thanked President Ma Ying-jeou for approving the visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader, who arrives in Taiwan on Sunday

President Ma on Thursday approved the visit on humanitarian grounds. He had rejected a request by the Dalai Lama to visit last year.

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama's office said the purpose of the visit is spiritual, not political.

Pro-China groups in Taiwan have criticized the Dalai-Lama's five-day visit, calling it "inappropriate" at this time. Beijing has been quick to send post-typhoon aid to Taiwan, which has enjoyed better relations with China since President Ma took office.

China has also sent its religious head, Ye Xiaowen, to Taiwan to participate in Buddhist ritual prayers for typhoon victims. Beijing stressed that Ye was invited by Taiwanese Buddhists, while the Dalai Lama was not.

Meanwhile Chinese authorities Friday approved 16 airline companies to operate regular direct flights between China and Taiwan.

This will be the Dalai Lama's third visit to Taiwan.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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