May 26, NEW DELHI, May 26 (AFP) - Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has expressed horror at the cruel treatment of cattle in India, an animal rights group said Friday.

The Dalai Lama has written to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asking him to "do all he could" to end the abusive treatment of animals, which are revered by traditional Hindus.

"The ill treatment of cattle in India is indeed too horrific for words ... I therefore appeal to you to look into this matter," the letter said.

The Dalai Lama said his attention was drawn to the problem by US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has threatened India's leather industry with costly lawsuits if it continues with its cruel treatment of cattle.

"I have seen seen their report and the video resulting from their investigation and I totally agree with them that the treatment of cows is too horrific ... Many in India probably do not have any idea of this cruelty against cattle," the Tibetan leader said in his letter, published by PETA.

Three leading US retailers -- Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic -- have agreed to stop using leather from India after a strong protest from international celebrities spearheaded by PETA.

Jason Baker, spokesman for the India branch of PETA, said the decision came after rock star Chrissie Hynde led demonstrations outside their stores.

PETA alleges cattle in India are marched for days and crammed into lorries before being killed.

Cows and calves which collapsed have chilli peppers and tobacco rubbed into their eyes and their tails broken in an effort to keep them moving.

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney has also previously appealed to Vajpayee to help stop the abuse of Indian cows.

The veteran rocker recalled Mahatma Gandhi, India's independence hero who campaigned throughout his life for vegetarianism. Gandhi had once said that a nation and its moral progress could be judged by how it treated animals.

The Dalai Lama is the latest celebrity to join the PETA campaign, which has enlisted the support of others including former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson Lee and musician Crispian Mills, former lead singer of the British group Kula Shaker.

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