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France expects EU to invite Dalai Lama to Brussels

PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday he expected he and his European Union counterparts would invite the Dalai Lama to Brussels soon.

Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU presidency, said an invitation was “do-able”, but would have to be agreed by all 27 EU members.

Such a move is likely to anger Beijing, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did when she met the Dalai Lama last year, prompting a four-month chill in relations with China, a crucial market for many European companies.

EU foreign ministers issued a joint statement on Saturday expressing “strong concern” over the situation in Tibet, where violent anti-Chinese protests have erupted, and called for dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing.

“I think that these 27 foreign ministers will invite the Dalai Lama to Brussels,” Kouchner told RTL radio, adding he thought the invitation could happen “soon”.

But Rupel said more time would be needed before the Dalai Lama could be invited to Brussels.

“The French minister has proposed to invite the Dalai Lama. Now I have not had time to really think about this. It sounds like a do-able idea but let’s look around a little bit and let’s give it another thought,” he said.

“Everybody is concerned with the situation in Tibet but give me a few hours to think about it.”

Asked whether Tibet’s spiritual leader would be invited to a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the coming months, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters:

“I don’t know, at this moment I don’t have any impression in particular of that.”

The unrest in Tibet began with peaceful marches by Buddhist monks in Lhasa last month. Within days, riots erupted in which non-Tibetan Chinese migrants were attacked and their property burned, prompting a security crackdown.

China says Tibetan mobs killed 19 people. The Tibetan government-in-exile says 140 died in Lhasa and elsewhere, most of them Tibetan victims of security forces.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will meet the Dalai Lama in May. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made no such commitment and Prime Minister Francois Fillon was cautious about the idea of a visit to Paris.

“We have not said we wouldn’t do it,” he told France Inter radio. “We just say: ‘What counts in this business? It’s getting the Chinese government to move.’”

“You can be happy about speeches you make from a setting where you don’t risk anything but what counts are results and we think that for the moment, you get results by talking directly to the Chinese government.”

Reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris and Darren Ennis and Ingrid Melander in Brussels; Editing by Giles Elgood