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Eye On Boise

Dalai Lama says China behind disinvite to Idaho Special Olympics

The Dalai Lama won't be visiting Idaho for the kickoff of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in February - and his aides say it's because the Chinese government pressured organizers to disinvite him. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Dalai Lama: ID visit canceled after Chinese threat
Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Aides to the Dalai Lama said pressure brought by the Chinese government on organizers of the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho prompted them to withdraw an invitation for the exiled Tibetan leader to attend the Feb. 7 opening ceremony.

Special Olympics officials in Washington, D.C., had previously said Chinese pressure didn't play a role in the canceled visit.

Lobsang Nyandak, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama's office in New York, told The Associated Press the Chinese had threatened to shutter training centers for athletes with intellectual disabilities and to have Chinese athletes boycott the games, if the Dalai Lama attended.

After the threats, organizers suggested he skip the opening ceremony and instead watch events the final two days, Feb. 12 and Feb. 13. That wasn't possible due to prior commitments in the United States and Germany, he said, and the original invitation was withdrawn.

Nyandak said his office attempted to work with games' organizers and understood their concerns, but said the Dalai Lama was disappointed that pressure led to the changes.

"Succumbing to pressures would mean we are encouraging the Chinese leaders," Nyandak said in an interview. "Certainly, we were disappointed. His Holiness is always concerned about the inconvenience. He always tries to be careful not to put the organizer in any difficult situation. Therefore, we did insist upon keeping the original invitation. The alternative arrangement didn't work."

Nyandak said it was his understanding that national Special Olympics organizers, not local Idaho organizers, altered the invitation.

On Wednesday, a Special Olympics spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., denied the Dalai Lama's invitation had been withdrawn as a result of Chinese pressure.

Kirsten Suto Seckler told The AP the invitation was still open, though she didn't specify if it was for the opening ceremony or to attend events on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13. Seckler didn't return multiple phone calls seeking comment on Thursday, though the Special Olympics issued a statement.

"We worked very hard to find an appropriate and meaningful role for His Holiness at the Games, but unfortunately were not able to do so," the statement said. "We proactively informed Chinese government representatives about this invitation and respectfully listened to their concerns. However, we always acted independently and in the best interests of our athletes, their families and our volunteers around the world. We regret any misunderstanding about this situation and we have never doubted the good intentions of the Dalai Lama's effort to support our vision."

The Dalai Lama, born Tenzin Gyatso in 1935, has lived in exile in India for nearly 50 years. Many Tibetans insist the country was an independent nation before Chinese Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing maintains the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.

The Dalai Lama has denied China's claims that he wants independence for Tibet, saying he only seeks greater autonomy to protect its Buddhist culture.

He previously came to Idaho in 2005, where he attended ceremonies near Sun Valley marking the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States, as well as attending events with business leaders.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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