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A high lama, back to visit, holds services in Tibet

The Panchen Lama, Tibet's highest-ranking spiritual leader after the exiled Dalai Lama, conducted services before 20,000 people during his first visit to Tibet in nearly 20 years, the New China News Agency said.

His return for a two-month inspection tour indicates official confidence that liberal reforms introduced in Tibet two years ago have begun to heal the deep rift between Tibetans and their Chinese rulers.

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In an address in Lhasa, the lama stated that freedom of religion is respected in Tibet and that religious belief is a purely personal matter. He had been banned from returning home after attacking unpopular communist policies in the mid-1960s.

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