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Dalai Lama says followers must decide whether office continues after him

The Dalai Lama has said his followers must decide whether the office exists in the future and acknowledged that his successor could be a woman.

The question of who will replace the 81-year-old exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader has gained significance in recent years, with Beijing insisting that the next Dalai Lama be born in China.

On a visit to the north-east Indian town of Tawang - the second-highest seat of Tibetan Buddhism - the Dalai Lama denied any knowledge of where his successor would be born.

Asked if the next Dalai Lama could be a woman, he said: "That might also happen."

The Tibetan leader said the people should decide on the question of the next Dalai Lama.

He is on a week-long visit to Arunachal Pradesh despite objections by China, which considers the state a disputed region.

The Dalai Lama said that he has nothing to do with "politics," and that it was the Tibetan self-declared government-in-exile that handled all political matters, including the Tibetan cause.

The Dalai Lama and his followers have been living in exile in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala in northern India since they fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

China does not recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, and has not held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.

China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951.

But many Tibetans say that they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.

In Tawang, thousands of people thronged both sides of the road on Saturday and broke into loud cheers, waving prayer flags as the Dalai Lama's motorcade entered a stadium where he addressed his followers.

Tawang was spruced up for the Dalai Lama's visit - his first since 2009, with s treets swept, houses freshly painted and welcome arches and banners erected across the main streets.

The Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh has drawn sharp protests from China.

On Wednesday, China accused India of using the Dalai Lama to undermine Beijing's interests and summoned the Indian ambassador in Beijing to formally lodge a protest.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying warned India that China "will firmly take necessary measures to defend its territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests."

India responded by saying China was creating an artificial controversy.

China claims about 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 square miles) in Arunachal Pradesh, referred to informally by some Chinese as "Southern Tibet."

India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometres (15,000 square miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau.

The Dalai Lama has often said that he was not seeking independence for Tibet, but trying to secure greater autonomy for the Tibetan people within China.

AP

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