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Dalai Lama says rail link brings AIDS, beggars to Tibet

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama accused Beijing on Wednesday of using a new railway link to flood Tibet with beggars, prostitutes and the unemployed, destroying its culture and traditions.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gestures during a public meeting in Mumbai January 31, 2007. The Dalai Lama accused Beijing on Wednesday of using a new railway link to flood Tibet with beggars, prostitutes and the unemployed, destroying its culture and traditions. REUTERS/Adeel Halim

“The railway link is a real danger,” said the spiritual leader, who fled to India from Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

“Beggars, handicapped people are coming. Their number is huge. Also jobless people facing difficulty in Chinese mainland are coming to Lhasa,” he told a religious gathering in the Indian city of Mumbai.

The 1,142-km (710-mile) rail link opened last July. The world’s highest, it passes through spectacular icy peaks on the Tibetan highlands, touching altitudes of 5,000 metres (16,400 feet).

Beijing says the 13-hour connection from China’s far-western province of Qinghai to Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, will bring economic and social development to the long-isolated region.

But Tibetan exiles -- about 80,000 of them live in India -- have dubbed the rail link to the “second invasion of Tibet”. They say it will only increase Chinese migration, dilute Tibetan culture and militarise the region.

The Dalai Lama said Beijing was forcing poor villagers to relocate to Tibet and was also sending uneducated young girls from the countryside to be “inducted as prostitutes” in Lhasa.

“Therefore, that is increasing the danger of AIDS,” he said.

The Dalai Lama said that besides destroying the cultural identity of Tibet, the railway was an “environmental menace” because it was helping China mine at very high altitudes.

“We are very concerned about the environmental impact of the railway link,” he said.

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