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Last updated: February 1, 2003

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Dalai Lama opens Buddhist festival of thousands in India BODHGAYA, India, Jan 12 (AFP) - Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Sunday opened a highly-secure, 10-day Buddhist ceremony attended by 200,000 people. Security forces sealed off Bodhgaya -- a normally quiet town in eastern India where the Buddha attained enlightenment two and a half millennia ago -- and searched visitors to the Kalchakra festival who entered through 24 metal-detector gates.

Officials have alleged militants linked to China, which has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since 1951, have issued death threats against the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel peace prize for his non-violent opposition to Beijing, has also been met with protests from Buddhists who accuse him either of being too soft on China or inconsiderate of India, where he has been based since 1959.

The All India Monks Federation, composed of ethnic Indian converts to Buddhism, opposed the Dalai Lama's participation to the holy ceremony, accusing him of trying to impose Tibetan influence over Indian Buddhist practices.

The Dalai Lama has presided over 29 Kalchakra festivals around the world but last year abruptly left Bodhgaya after falling ill.

He underwent treatment in Bombay for a bowel infection.

The 67-year-old Buddhist leader told reporters he was now in good shape.

"This time, hopefully, my physical health is OK and there will be no problem," he said.

The Dalai Lama opened the ritual with prayers in Tibetan that were translated into English on thousands of headphones handed out to visitors from Buddhist countries and the West.

Monks and other Buddhists chanted hymns together to open the Kalchakra, which hopes to bring peace through a rigorous series of tantric initiations.

More than 500 tents were set up at three camps for the pilgrims, who are shivering through temperatures just above freezing level at night.

Besides Bodhgaya's regular security personnel, about 550 police have been brought in to maintain security during the event, officials said.

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.