08/27/2009, 00.00
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Ma Ying-jeou approves the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan for "religious" reasons

The Tibetan spiritual leader to console the people and pray for the victims of Typhoon Morakot. Usually Beijing expresses strong criticism to the countries that dare to invite the Dalai Lama, accusing them of "separatism".

Taipei (AsiaNews) - President Ma Ying-jeou says his administration has approved the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan to comfort and pray for the victims of Typhoon Morakot. The visit should take place between 31 August and 4 September.

The announcement came as the president was visiting the areas hardest hit by the disaster, which so far has left 461 dead and 192 missing, as well as enormous damage to infrastructure and agriculture. The invitation to the Tibetan spiritual leader came from 7 leaders of towns in the south, all members of the opposition Democratic Party.

The Office of the President stated that the decision to endorse the call is based on religious and humanitarian considerations. "We think - said spokesman Wang Yu-chi - that this fact should not damage relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait."

Just last year the Dalai Lama had expressed his wish to go on the "rebel", island but Ma Ying-jeou had held back because his administration was in dialogue with China to cool tensions and enhance economic relations.

The Tibetan spiritual leader already travelled to Taiwan in '97 and in 2001, prompting anger in Beijing who charged him with wanting to separate Tibet from the motherland.

Relations between China and Taiwan have improved since May 2008, after the victory of Ma Ying-jeou, who pledged to strengthen economic ties and not to assert the island’s independence. In December 2008 direct postal, air and sea communications were launched between the two sides of the Strait, Taiwan opened up to Chinese tourism, and constraints on Taiwanese investment in mainland China were dropped .

In its continuing campaign against the "separatism" of the Dalai Lama, Beijing criticises all countries that dare to grant a visa to the Tibetan leader. According to observers, it is likely that this time, Beijing will formally complain. Ma’s decision should help him recover consensus on the island, where the population has been critical of government inertia in tackling the emergency caused by the typhoon and its relaxed policy towards China, which seems to want "sell" the country to Beijing.

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