Altaf Qadri  /  AP
Tibetan delegates gather in Dharmsala, India, to debate how to advance their struggle for freedom with China.
updated 11/22/2008 12:13:40 PM ET 2008-11-22T17:13:40

Hundreds of Tibetan leaders agreed Saturday to continue to follow the Dalai Lama's "middle path" of compromise with China, capping a rare meeting to discuss how to advance their struggle for freedom.

Tibetans from all over the world flocked to Dharmsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the self-declared government-in-exile, for the weeklong meeting. They debated whether to continue with the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader's "middle path" that seeks substantial local autonomy for Tibet, or else to call for independence for the Himalayan region.

"There was a majority for the middle way," Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the Tibetan parliament, told reporters after the conference. But she said if China does not respond positively, "there is no other option left to us then to go for independence."

The delegates also agreed to temporarily stop talks with China because Beijing was not taking them seriously, Gyari said.

"Looking at the doings of China in recent times, we will not send the envoys for further contact," she added.

Sonamtopga, 57, who only goes by one name said this was not an end to the dialogue with China, but that formal negotiations would stop.

Public frustration
The Dalai Lama called the meeting after publicly expressing frustration over the failure of his approach to gain greater autonomy for the region.

Participants had said the meeting was unlikely to result in a dramatic break with the Dalai Lama's approach. A number of delegates called for taking a harder line against China, but the consensus seemed to hew toward a more conservative strategy.

As a result, the meeting has become a dress rehearsal in democracy as the Tibetans try to formulate a plan without the guidance of "His Holiness," a man they view as closer to a god than a mere leader.

The delegates "reaffirmed that they will follow the Dalai Lama in whatever path he deems most appropriate," said Tenzin Tethong, a former prime minister. The Tibetan parliament, which convenes in March, must approve the agreements reached in the meeting, Tethong said.

The Dalai Lama was expected to address the delegates Sunday.

Many Tibetans said the opportunity to present their own opinions was a liberating experience that they hoped would lead to more open discussions.

"We really need to think for ourselves and be independent," said Tenzin Nyesang, 28, of Boston. "People are being very receptive. This meeting was very peaceful."

China stands ground
For its part, China has made clear that it has no plans to relent against Tibet.

On Friday, China launched a new verbal attack, making clear it would not yield in its hard-line approach toward Tibet.

"The Dalai Lama's "so-called 'middle way' is a naked expression of 'Tibet independence' aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history," said an editorial in the official Tibet Daily newspaper.

While China allowed former British and Portuguese colonies to retain their limited democratic governance even after returning to Chinese sovereignty in the late 1990s, they have refused to offer the same concessions to Tibet.

"Any acts to harm or change Tibet's current basic political system are in diametric opposition to our country's constitution and law," the editorial said in what appeared to be a signal to the exile leaders gathered in Dharmsala.

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

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