Orthodox Church sympathetic as protests continue over ban on Dalai Lama Moscow, Sept 10--(AFP) The Orthodox Church expressed sympathy on Tuesday as some 50 Buddhists and liberal activists gathered outside the Russian foreign ministry to protest Moscow's decision to refuse an entrance visa to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. "Shame on the foreign ministry," "Visa for the Dalai Lama," the protestors chanted, holding photographs of the Dalai Lama.

A senior Orthodox official, Metropolitan Kirill, said the Moscow Patriarchate regretted that the Tibetan spiritual leader would be unable to visit Russia as planned. "I can understand the religious feelings of people who were deprived of this visit," Kirill, head of foreign relations for Russia's Orthodox Church, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

It was "absolutely clear" that the Russian foreign ministry had blocked the Dalai Lama from entering Russia because of "considerations of state in the context of Russian-Chinese relations," he remarked. "But there is also the matter of believers' expectations," the official added. "Therefore I greatly regret that the Dalai Lama, the religious leader of Buddhists, including Buddhists in Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva, could not visit his followers," he concluded.

A Buddhist leader at the protest rally dressed in a deep-red robe, Tibetan Geshe Jampa Thinley, accused Moscow of being "more concerned about China's feelings than of its own citizens." According to him, a dozen Buddhists have gone on hunger strike in the Russian republics of Buryatia and Tuva since August 29.

The demonstration was the second such action since late last month, when some 100 chanting Buddhists held a rally at the steps of the foreign ministry in central Moscow.

The Dalai Lama had planned to visit Russia's three Buddhist republics, Buryatia and Tuva bordering Mongolia, and Kalmykia from September 11. There are an estimated one million Buddhists in Russia. But in mid-August, a foreign ministry spokesman said the decision to refuse him a visa had been taken because of the visit's possible "political orientation". He said it had also been necessary to "take account of the position of China, whose leadership is opposed to the Dalai Lama's political activity."

In September last year, the Dalai Lama, was forced to call off a visit to Mongolia after Moscow denied him a transit visa. The Dalai Lama has visited Russia several times in the past following his first visit in 1982, most recently in 1992. He fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

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