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Last updated: February 1, 2003

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Dalai Lama uses Buddhist festival to promote Tibetan autonomy South China Morning Post Tuesday, January 14, 2003 AMRIT DHILLON in New Delhi and ASSOCIATED PRESS in Gaya, India
The Dalai Lama is using the massive Buddhist festival of Kalachakra in the Indian state of Bihar to call for greater Tibetan autonomy, while other Tibetans gathered at the event for their largest prayer ceremony of the year are campaigning for a boycott of Chinese products.

Bodhgaya, the sleepy village where the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago, has been turned into a fortress for the annual festival.

Hundreds of police, paramilitary troops, sniffer dogs and land-mine sweepers have been mobilised to ensure public safety at the nine-day event, which started on Saturday.

The most obvious threat comes from the presence of the Dalai Lama.

Local police say the Maoist Communist Centre rebel group of Nepal has threatened to kill the Tibetan spiritual leader.

In a separate incident, a Tibetan security guard and a Chinese woman were arrested on suspicion of spying hours before the Dalai Lama arrived on Sunday.

They were later released.

The Dalai Lama and other members of his Tibetan government-in-exile are distributing pamphlets at the festival arguing that Tibet cannot be ruled by Beijing without the participation of the Dalai Lama or Tibet's citizens.

Tibetans were also yesterday handing out pamphlets and appealing to people to stop buying Chinese-made products and to "phase out" any such products that they already own.

They called on vendors to stop selling anything made in China.

However, the Dalai Lama has struck an optimistic note, saying that the mainland is changing and giving Tibetans some measure of hope.

"Communism has collapsed, except for in China, North Korea and other small nations," the Dalai Lama said.

"Today, there is still no rule of law in China but people can at least sit in tea shops and criticise their leaders.

" As local officials struggle to supply water, shelter, food and electricity to the vast congregation, the police are busy contending with internal disputes.

The most belligerent faction at the festival is a group of Indian "neo-Buddhists".

They resent the Dalai Lama and his followers for their so-called "pro-China" bias, the pampering they get from the Indian government and for desecrating the temple by wearing shoes around the premises.

About 11 neo-Buddhists went on a hunger strike over the shoe affair, and were subsequently arrested.

The neo-Buddhists have also been handing out leaflets publicising their cause.

They accuse the Dalai Lama of being funded by the CIA and demand that he be expelled from India.

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