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updated 5/3/2008 3:33:20 AM ET 2008-05-03T07:33:20

State-run media in China railed against the Dalai Lama as talks were set to take place between the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Chinese officials.

Details of the meeting set for Saturday were not available. It would be the first meeting between the two sides since violent anti-government protests erupted in Tibet in March.

The Dalai Lama’s office said Friday that two envoys would have “informal talks with representatives of the Chinese leadership” and had arrived in Hong Kong.

The envoys — Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen — would convey “deep concerns” over China’s handling of the situation in Tibet and would put forward “suggestions to bring peace to the region,” according to a statement issued by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is based in Dharmsala, India.

The Tibetan envoys were to meet with officials from a government department tasked to contain separatist movements, a spokesman for the exiled government said.

International calls to negotiate
China has faced mounting international calls to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, and some experts believe Beijing agreed to meet to ease pressure ahead of the Olympics, which begin in August.

The Tibet talks were not mentioned Saturday in China’s entirely state-run media, but two articles continued to accuse the Dalai Lama and his supporters of organizing riots with an aim of breaking the far western Himalayan region of Tibet away from Chinese rule.

“The hope of realizing Tibetan independence by the Dalai clique has become more and more dim. When their hopes shattered, the Dalai clique launched bloody violence, this was their last act of madness,” the Tibet Daily said.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising in 1959, says he is seeking meaningful autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from Chinese rule. He has decried “cultural genocide” in his homeland, which has a unique Buddhist tradition distinct from the rest of China.

The Dalai Lama is deeply revered by Tibetans. Men in that position have traditionally been regarded as both the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

Paper denies religion link
A front-page story in the overseas edition of People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, denied the Tibetan issue was related to religion, saying “the religious issue is a card played by the Dalai clique for gaining the sympathy from some people.”

Thubten Samphal, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the Dalai Lama’s envoys will meet with the head of China’s United Front Work Department during their three-day visit.

The department, directly under the Communist Party’s central committee and responsible for overseeing work to “contain separatist forces,” hosted envoys attending earlier talks. China and representatives of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile held six rounds of inconclusive talks that foundered in 2006.

Since the last talks, the department has gained a new boss, Du Qinglin, a former minister of agriculture who more recently ran Sichuan province, where there is a large Tibetan population.

The department has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment Saturday. No other Chinese officials were available for comment on Saturday, a national holiday in China.

Talks informal
The talks were being held on an informal level only “because we cannot do business as usual when the situation in Tibet is so grave,” Thubten Samphal said Friday.

“The crisis in Tibet should end before formal discussions should be held,” he said.

China says 22 people died in violence in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa, while overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have been killed in protests and the security crackdown across Tibetan regions of western China.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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