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Dalai Lama to give up political role in Tibet

China said the the 76-year-old spiritual leader was playing "tricks" on the world with the announcement that he plans to retire from government.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet amid the failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Rafiq Maqbool / AP Photo
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet amid the failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Rafiq Maqbool / AP Photo

DHARMSALA, India // The Dalai Lama said on Thursday that he will be giving up his political role in Tibet's government-in-exile, shifting that power to an elected representative.

The Tibetan spiritual leader, speaking on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region, said the time has come "to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader".

He has long insisted that he wants the exile government, based in this Indian hill town, to have more power, and has previously said he wants to give up his political roles. On Thursday, though, he laid down a timeline, saying he would propose amendments to the exile constitution during the exile parliament's next session, which begins later this month.

Just how much change will come, though, is highly unclear. While the elected parliament officially wields great power in the exile community, the Dalai Lama's status means he overshadows everyone else.

China said the Dalai Lama was playing "tricks" on the world with the announcement.

"He has often talked about retirement in the past few years. I think these are his tricks to deceive the international community," the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told reporters.

"The government-in-exile is an illegal political organisation and no country in the world recognises it."

The Dalai Lama, 76, who fled Tibet amid the failed uprising, remains deeply revered by most Tibetans despite Beijing's decades-long campaign to undermine his influence.

China regards him as a separatist intent on overthrowing Chinese rule over the Himalayan region.

The Dalai Lama, who has long insisted he simply wants more autonomy for the Tibetan people within China, called on Beijing to ease its rule in Tibet.

"Tibetans live in constant fear and anxiety," he said in the speech. "The ongoing oppression of the Tibetan people has provoked widespread, deep resentment against current official policies."

Samdhong Rinpoche, the current exile prime minister, later indicated that the political transition may not happen soon.

"Despite His Holiness' request, the people and the government do not feel competent to lead ourselves," he told reporters, calling the transition "a long and difficult process".

In the past, the parliament-in-exile has officially asked the Dalai Lama not to give up any of his powers.

The Dalai Lama said he had received repeated requests from within Tibet and outside to retain his political role, but his decision would provide a leader "elected freely by the Tibetan people."

"My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility," the Dalai Lama said. "It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened."

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse