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Bush to attend ceremony honoring Dalai Lama

WASHINGTON_ Risking heightened tensions with China, President Bush will attend a ceremony to award Congress' highest civilian honor to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader whom Beijing reviles as a separatist.

The White House confirmed Bush will go to the Capitol on Wednesday for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal, whose recipients include Mother Teresa, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Beijing expressed its unhappiness about honoring the Dalai Lama, the winner of the 1989 Peace Prize.

"China resolutely opposes the U.S. Congress awarding the Dalai its so-called Congressional Gold Medal, and firmly opposes any country or any person using the Dalai issue to interfere in China's internal affairs," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a news conference in Beijing.

Liu said China had "presented a representation" to Washington over Congress' move, but gave no details.

The Dalai Lama will be honored for his "many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights, and religious understanding."

The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains immensely popular among Tibetans, despite persistent efforts to demonize him by Beijing, which objects vigorously to all overseas visits by the Dalai Lama.

China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.

In its announcement, Congress said that the Dalai Lama was "recognized in the United States and throughout the world as a leading figure of moral and religious authority."

It praised him for fighting for democracy, freedom, and Tibet's cultural heritage, saying he promoted peace for Tibet "through a negotiated settlement of the Tibet issue, based on autonomy within the People's Republic of China."

The Dalai Lama insists he wants "real autonomy," not independence for Tibet, but Beijing continues to accuse him of seeking to split the region from China.

By Terence Hunt, AP Writer Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report from Beijing

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