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NZ Herald: Were Christchurch officials pressured to snub Dalai Lama?

The city council of Christchurch, New Zealand, has been accused of snubbing Tibet’s Dalai Lama during a recent visit.

Tibetan community representative Thuten Kesang said he was disappointed the council “did not lift a finger to help” the Tibetan spiritual leader, according to the New Zealand Herald newspaper.

“I’m absolutely disappointed and ashamed that not one member of the Christchurch City Council, or yourself, welcomed His Holiness to Christchurch,” he said in a letter to Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.

Kesang, who organized the visit, said he asked for council help, but none was provided. A New Zealand Tibetan trust expended $40,000 on the visit, including hiring the Canterbury Arena for a public appearance by the Lama.

Kesang said it was disappointing that no city councillors were available. “One of them could have given five minutes to welcome His Holiness. Chinese are putting a lot of money into Christchurch and I think this is what has driven them back,” he said.

Council public affairs general manager Lydia Aydon said the mayor was unavailable since he was hospitalized after surgery. No other councillors filled in because the Dalai Lama was visiting in a private rather than official capacity, she said.

Additionally, “he had only asked to meet the mayor, who was unavailable,” she said.

The council did compile information and advice to organizers, she noted, and expressed regret those efforts were not considered helpful.

Last year, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key declined to meet the Dalai Lama.

Key denied the decision was a result of Chinese diplomatic pressure but diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks indicated he told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao he would have no contact with the Buddhist leader. 

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