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China's Panchen Lama criticizes "unscrupulous" foes

BEIJING (Reuters) - The young Tibetan anointed by China as its Buddhist figurehead for the region said Tibet faces assaults on stability from an “unscrupulous” individual, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled denunciation of the Dalai Lama.

Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu, who was given his high position in Tibetan Buddhism with Beijing’s approval, did not name the Dalai Lama, who is frequently denounced by China as a separatist but is still revered by most Tibetans as their spiritual leader.

But his strikingly forthright embrace of the ruling Communist Party in a speech on Friday appeared an unmistakable assault on the aging monk, who wielded both political and spiritual authority over Tibet until he fled to exile in 1959.

“I want to sincerely thank the Communist Party for giving me a pair of clear eyes, so I can tell right from wrong,” the Panchen Lama told a forum for Tibetan Serfs’ Emancipation Day, which will be marked for the first time on Saturday in an effort to promote China’s policies in the mountain region.

“I can clearly recognize who truly loves and protects the Tibetan people, and who for personal motives unscrupulously wrecks Tibet’s tranquility and stability,” added the 19-year-old, who looked visibly nervous before his speech.

The Panchen Lama, traditionally Tibet’s second-ranking spiritual leader, generally avoids direct public references to the Dalai Lama.

But other top leaders, including one of the Communist Party’s inner circle, were not so coy and roundly denounced the Dalai Lama, whose “clique” they blame for rioting that shook Lhasa last March and sparked a wave of protests across ethnic Tibetan areas.

China also accuses the Dalai Lama of presiding over a cruel, feudal society and resisting change.

Serfs’ Emancipation Day celebrates the end of that system, under which the majority of Tibetans were tied by inherited bonds to the estates of monasteries, nobles or government officials.

“The Dalai clique ignores people’s wishes. For a long time, they have been devoting themselves to separatist activities and (trying to) restore their past glory,” said Jia Qinglin, a member of the nine-man Politburo at the heart of the Communist Party.

The Dalai Lama rejects the accusations that he orchestrated rioting and the waves of protests that followed.

Many Tibetans outside China say the Dalai Lama’s government was launching its own, more sensitive, reforms and Beijing has exaggerated the cruelty of traditional society.

China has poured billions of dollars into modernizing Tibet but a dispute over the Panchen Lama has left a void that could prove destabilizing after the death of the Dalai Lama, now 73.

A five-year-old boy was chosen by the Dalai Lama as successor to the 10th Panchen Lama in 1995, but he has disappeared from public view since his selection became known.

China’s critics at the time called him the world’s youngest political prisoner. Beijing says he does not want publicity and has a normal life with his family.

Editing by Nick Macfie and Paul Tait