Dalai Lama to Step Down as Tibetan Political Leader

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama looks on during the commemoration of the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in Dharmsala, India, March 10, 2011

The Dalai Lama says he is about to give up his political role and turn over those responsibilities to the elected leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The revered Buddhist made the announcement Thursday in a speech in Dharmsala, India, marking the anniversary of a 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

The Nobel Peace laureate will retain his role as spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He said he is acting to benefit the Tibetan people and that he will introduce constitutional amendments when the exile parliament convenes its new session later this month.

In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman dismissed the Dalai Lama's talk of retirement "as tricks to deceive the international community." Spokeswoman Jiang Yu also denounced the parliament-in-exile as an illegal political organization.

The Tibetan exiles will also select a new prime minister this month, choosing from among three secular candidates. But the outgoing prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, said the parliament will be reluctant to see the Dalai Lama step down and that the transition will be "a long and difficult process."

Elsewhere Thursday, police in neighboring Nepal have broken up a protest by more than 1,000 Tibetan exiles commemorating the Dalai Lama's 1959 flight into exile and demanding an end to Chinese rule in their homeland. Local media reported at least 15 arrests.

Eric Harwit, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Hawaii, told VOA that the Dalai Lama has been saying for months that he wishes to step aside as a political leader. He said the step will make the exile movement more democratic and add to its legitimacy.

Harwit said the move will also make it easier for the exile movement based in Dharmsala to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama, who has suffered health problems. China insisted this week that the successor must be chosen in Tibet according to longstanding tradition.

Harwit said he expects the Dalai Lama to continue to act as an international spokesman for the Tibetan cause, seeking greater autonomy. China considers him a dangerous separatist who seeks to end Chinese rule in the Himalayan territory.