From: Reuters
Published April 21, 2008 05:51 PM

Paris makes Dalai Lama a "citizen of honor"

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris city hall made Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen on Monday, exacerbating tensions between France and China in the build up to the Beijing Olympics.

The motion to honor the Dalai Lama was backed by the city's Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe and his environmentalist allies but was not supported by President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right party or Communist councilors.

Relations between France and China have suffered badly in the wake of big pro-Tibetan protests that disrupted the passage of the Olympic flame through Paris earlier this month.

Angered by the Chinese reaction to the demonstrations, mayor Delanoe pushed to make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen.

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"The Dalai Lama is a man of dialogue and peace," Delanoe told reporters on Monday. "It is the duty of Paris, in the name of universal values, to support him."

Although pro-Tibetan supporters have targeted the Olympic relay around the world, the Paris demonstration caused particular anger in China after images showed a Chinese athlete in a wheelchair having to shield the flame from protesters.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of some Chinese cities in recent days to denounce France and call for a boycott of French goods.

Sarkozy has launched a charm offensive to try to repair the damage, writing to the paralympic athlete, Jin Jing, praising her "outstanding courage" and inviting her to visit France again as his "personal guest."

The president's allies in Paris city hall said Delanoe's initiative would be seen as provocative in Beijing.

"I don't think that by making the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen you are going to ease relations between China and France," said former centre-right sports minister, Jean-Francois Lamour.

(Reporting by Thierry Levêque, writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Charles Dick)

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