First Minister Alex Salmond urged to change plans and meet Dalai Lama following fears of pressure from China

EDINBURGH’S Tibetan community today appealed to Alex Salmond to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to the Capital.

The call came amid claims that China, which has occupied Tibet since 1950, had lobbied the First Minister and council leaders over the visit of the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama arrives here tomorrow as part of his ten-day tour of Britain, but there are no plans for him to meet Mr Salmond.

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A spokesman for Mr Salmond insisted that the Dalai Lama’s visit was a pastoral one and added that the First Minister had engagements elsewhere.

The Dalai Lama will meet Lord Provost Donald Wilson tomorrow and is due to give a lecture at the Usher Hall on Friday before meeting faith leaders at the Scottish Parliament.

China’s consul-general Li Ruiyou met Mr Salmond at Bute House a fortnight ago and also recently met the Lord Provost.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The suspicion is growing that the First Minister has been nobbled or gagged by China.”

A petition signed by more than 40 Tibetans living in Scotland calls for Mr Salmond to reconsider and demonstrate “Scotland’s unwavering commitment to universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Changchub Mermesel, chairwoman of the Tibetan Community in Scotland, said she believed Scottish Government efforts to nurture relationships with China, including the deal to bring pandas to Edinburgh Zoo, were part of the reason behind Mr Salmond’s decision not to meet the Dalai Lama.

She said: “We feel he could give us his support. His people are giving their support. His Holiness has resigned from the political arena, he is not a political leader any more, so the minister doesn’t have to fear too much.”

The council said the Chinese consul-general met the Lord Provost on a regular basis but a spokeswoman said: “These discussions are private.”

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A spokesman for Mr Salmond said he was due to fly back into Aberdeen from a visit to United States late tomorrow evening and would travel from there to a British Irish Council meeting in Stirling on Friday morning.

The spokesman said: “The First Minister met the Chinese consul-general earlier this month. In many such meetings we have made representations on human rights, not just in Tibet, but elsewhere in China.

“The Dalai Lama is being properly recognised at a meeting hosted by the Presiding Officer in Queensberry House on a non-political basis.”