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Tibetan leader speaks gently, but carries a big message

During a private visit to Britain which began this week, the Dalai Lama, religious leader of six million Tibetan Buddhists, has been guarded but not silent about the problems between Tibet and China. With good humor and a beguiling smile, he has foiled the British government's request that he keep his public remarks to religious and pastoral matters.

``I think I am always regarded as a free spokesman for the Tibetan people, so my real boss is the Tibetan people. My boss already speaks out,'' he said during a television interview, apparently referring to recent protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa.

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Tenzin Gyatso, known as the 14th Dalai Lama, also said Tibetans resent China's ``very negative'' attitude toward Tibetan culture. He said if circumstances were favorable, he would go to Peking to meet with Chinese leaders. He said he is looking for a ``middle way'' between Tibet's current status under Chinese rule and the long-term goal of independence.

Asked about the Chinese government's recent invitation to let him live in Tibet under the condition that he not oppose Chinese rule, the Tibetan leader said he always had a right to live there and that this could not be granted by the Chinese government. ``It is my right to return or not,'' he said.

The Dalai Lama's visit to Britain is for pastoral purposes, according to a spokesman at the London office of the exiled Tibetan government. But the former child-king has been closely identified with the political aspirations of his followers.

While in the US last year, the Tibetan leader spoke openly about the sufferings of the Tibetans under Chinese rule and called for a ``zone of peace and nonviolence'' in Tibet.

Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping later charged that his comments helped spark rioting in Lhasa last September.

A repeat of these events appears unlikely during the Dalai Lama's subdued visit to Britain, although the British government's tactics appeared to have backfired.

``It was a tactical mistake from their point of view,'' said Eric Avebury, chairman of the non-partisan Parliamentary Human Rights Group. ``He's getting more attention than he might have if they had left him alone.''

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