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Milan makes visiting Dalai Lama honorary citizen, angering China

MILAN (Reuters) - Milan welcomed Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, on Thursday and gave him an honorary citizenship on a visit to the northern Italian city, angering China, which sees him as a separatist.

Technicians adjusts the earphones of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as he arrives at the Arcimboldi theater to receive honorary citizenship of the city of Milan, in Milan, Italy October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The 80-year-old Nobel Peace prize-winning monk says he only seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet, the Himalayan region that Communist Chinese troops took control of in 1950.

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala, who is an ally of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, posted a photograph on Twitter of himself wearing a Buddhist scarf and clasping hands with the Dalai Lama.

Sala tweeted: “Milan, an open city. In the past, the present and the future.” Italian media quoted him saying he did not fear “repercussions” from the meeting.

The Dalai Lama was also received by senior Roman Catholic cardinal Angelo Scola. There was no suggestion he would meet Pope Francis, who is pushing to improve relations with China.

Beijing frequently expresses its anger with countries who host the Dalai Lama at official gatherings, and promised to retaliate after Slovakia’s president saw him this week. Few foreign leaders are willing to meet him.

“We resolutely oppose a country’s officials in any capacity conducting meetings with the Dalai Lama,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing on Thursday.

The Chinese embassy in Rome said Milan city officials meeting with the Buddhist leader “had gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”.

Chinese companies have invested heavily in Italy in recent years, buying tyre maker Pirelli in 2015 and fashion house Krizia in 2014. A Chinese consortium has agreed to buy one of Italy’s leading soccer teams, AC Milan.

The head of Sino-Italian business association UNIIC, Francesco Wu, was quoted by AGI news agency saying he was against the visit.

Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Louise Ireland