The Dalai Lama is coming to Northern Ireland this week on a mission of peace. During his three-day visit to Belfast and Londonderry, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people will meet community representatives, victims and survivors of the 30 years of violence, together with clergy, politicians and business leaders. On Thursday he will join Catholic and Protestant religious leaders and community workers on a walk through west Belfast - across the peace line dividing the nationalist and loyalist communities. The Dalai Lama will take part in a symbolic tree ceremony at the flashpoint, Lanark Way. This is the first time he has been to Northern Ireland. He was invited by the World Community of Christian Meditation to attend their three-day international The Way of Peace seminar in Belfast. The meeting will explore practical ways in which inter-religious dialogue can contribute to peacemaking. The Dalai Lama is also to attend a youth conference in Belfast on the theme of Non-Violence Works, and deliver the annual Northern Ireland Amnesty International Lecture. Born to a peasant family in north east Tibet, he was recognised as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama at the age of two. The Dalai Lama was enthroned in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in 1940, but following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949, there were fears for his life and he escaped over the mountains into India in 1959. At that time many monasteries were destroyed and Tibetan monks and nuns were tortured and killed. Seven million Chinese workers were moved into Tibet, a country with a population of only six million native inhabitants. After the invasion Tibetans were forbidden to speak their own language or practice their religion. Thousands of refugees flooded into India and there is now a Tibetan community in Dharamsala struggling to keep their culture and faith alive. Periodically there have been outbreaks of violence in Tibet by the Chinese occupying authorities. Following Tianenmen Square in Beijing there were similar demonstrations in Lhasa. Reports in recent months indicate once again that the Chinese authorities are becoming much more repressive. Many people have disappeared or been thrown in to prison. Since 1970 the Dalai Lama has travelled the world, meeting presidents, prime ministers and religious leaders, appealing for their support for Tibet. He has never advocated separation from China, just some degree of autonomy and religious freedom. His message of human compassion and non-violence won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
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