Italian city pulls back from making Dalai Lama an honorary citizen

His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Royal Albert Hall

The Dalai Lama, 76, appears at Royal Albert Hall on 19 June 2012 in London, England. The exiled Buddhist Tibetan leader is on national tour of the United Kingdom with visits to Manchester, Leeds, and London. Getty Images/Rosie Hallam/UK

LA Times

ON THE WEB, 22 June 2012

In a decision that outraged supporters of the Tibetan cause, Milan has backed away from plans to give the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship because of concerns about upsetting China, Italian media reported Thursday.

The Milan city council had planned to vote on making the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen before his visit next week. Officials in Venice and Rome have already honoured the Tibetan spiritual leader.

City leaders came under pressure from the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Chinese ambassador to drop the idea, La Repubblica reported. Milan reportedly worried that the move could also poison its talks with China before the Italian city hosts an international exposition in 2015.

The city council scuttled the move, upsetting the president of the Tibetan community of Milan, who told Tempi that giving in to China would “cover Milan with shame.” The mayor reportedly said he would nonetheless welcome the Dalai Lama to their city hall, an offer that didn’t appease his critics.

“Today, I am ashamed to be a representative of a council and a city that are scared,” said city council member Pietro Tatarella, who wanted to give the Dalai Lama the honour, according to La Repubblica.

The furor over pulling back the honour has led other Italian cities to say they’ll make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen in their towns. The mayor of Matera said the city was committed to defending human rights around the world, including in China, Adnkronos reported.

Hosting the Dalai Lama has been politically sticky for European leaders hoping to stay in the good graces of China. After British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in May, China cancelled a scheduled visit to Britain by one of its top officials. In Scotland, where the Dalai Lama is visiting this week, opposition parties have accused political leaders of snubbing the Tibetan spiritual leader to appease China, the BBC reported Thursday. Scottish leaders denied that, but emphasized that the trip to Scotland was “pastoral,” not “political.”

Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire this year to protest what they say is an increasingly heavy hand imposed by the Chinese government on Tibetan religious life. Two Tibetans immolated themselves Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

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