China's official Tibet Buddhist leader condemns riots

Monks and protestors rally on a street in Amdo Labrang, northeastern Tibet, March 15, 2008. Chinese officials have declared a "people's war" of security and propaganda against support for the Dalai Lama in Tibet after riots racked the regional capital Lhasa, and some sources claimed the turmoil killed dozens. REUTERS/TCHRD/Handout

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top state-favored Tibetan Buddhist leader has condemned the riots that shook Lhasa, state media said on Sunday, but the tightly controlled teenager appeared to avoid directly criticizing the exiled Dalai Lama.

The Panchen Lama ranks second to the Dalai Lama in the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism.

After the 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989, Beijing and the Dalai Lama made rival choices for his successor, and the Dalai’s choice, a boy then aged six, disappeared into the control of Chinese authorities.

But according to the Xinhua news agency, Beijing’s choice, 18-year-old Gyaltsen Norbu, has come out backing the government condemnation of protests that left parts of Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa smouldering with torched vehicles and shops.

“The rioters’ acts not only harmed the interests of the nation and the people, but also violated the aim of Buddhism,” he said, according to an English-language report from Lhasa.

“We strongly condemn the crime of a tiny number of people to hurt the lives and properties of the people,” he said.

Chinese authorities have said the Dalai Lama directly caused the protests, which snowballed from peaceful marches by monks.

But the 11th Panchen Lama, at least in the published comments, did not condemn the Dalai Lama, whom China reviles as a “separatist” while most Tibetans venerate him as a spiritual leader, even though his image is banned.

Tibetans widely disdain Beijing’s choice for the 11th Panchen Lama, but tradition dictates the Dalai and Panchen lamas should recognize each other’s reincarnations.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by John Chalmers and Jerry Norton