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Snub claims overshadow Dalai Lama's Scottish tour

THE Dalai Lama's two-day visit to Scotland has been overshadowed by a political spat over which political leaders will meet him.

SUPPORT: The Dalai Lama was greeted by crowds.
SUPPORT: The Dalai Lama was greeted by crowds.

The Tibetan spiritual leader spent last night in Edinburgh after arriving in the capital yesterday and will also visit Dundee and Inverness as part of his nine-day UK tour.

However, as crowds greeted the Nobel Peace Prize winner, politicians remained in conflict over claims, denied by the Scottish Government, that China had discouraged councils from giving the 76-year-old figurehead for Tibetan independence the red carpet treatment.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed at First Minister's Questions yesterday the Chinese Government had put pressure on both SNP-controlled Dundee City Council and the First Minister not to meet him.

The Holyrood administration admitted holding many meetings with China over human rights issues, but denied intervening over the trip.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Alex Salmond said they did not think there was "any foundation" to Mr Rennie's claims.

Mr Rennie said the Scottish Government would send a message of condemnation of China's human rights record by arranging for a minister to meet the Dalai Lama.

However, the Government said no such request or invitation had been issued and that arrangements for a pastoral visit involving other religious leaders were "entirely appropriate".

Controversy erupted on Wednesday when Dundee City Council's Lord Provost was accused of pulling out of giving a speech at an event in the city where the Buddhist will speak, but the SNP civic leader said he was attending a family funeral.

It emerged the Chinese consul general to Scotland had met with council leaders from all three cities scheduled for the tour and the Scottish Government admitted the First Minister had met the Chinese Consul General in recent weeks, but on an unrelated issue.

Pressured at First Minister's Questions to condemn Chinese human rights abuses, Ms Sturgeon, standing in for the First Minister, condemned human rights abuses across the world.

Mr Rennie said: "I have to say it is a welcome change from the ambiguous attitude of the First Minister."

The SNP pointed out the Liberal Democrats had failed to contribute during a Westminster debate on Tibet.

North-east Labour MSP Jenny Marra also pressed the Government to arrange high-level meetings with the spiritual leader.

She asked why SNP administrations at Holyrood or Dundee City Council have not afforded a "proper welcome" to the Dalai Lama.

She added: "What message does this send about the SNP's willingness to address human rights abuses in China?"

Ms Sturgeon pointed out that no UK Government minister was meeting with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Scotland.

She added: "The Dalai Lama is making a pastoral visit to Scotland.

"He is being properly recognised in the Parliament at a reception hosted by the Presiding Officer, which as far as I understand it, no party political representative will attend."

Today, the Dalai Lama will be given a private viewing of archive material about Tibet at the National Library of Scotland before delivering a talk at the Usher Hall with the theme Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.

He will also give the Margaret Harris Lecture on Religion at Dundee's Caird Hall.

On Saturday, he will visit Inverness for another talk.

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