In a decision that outraged supporters of the Tibetan cause, Milan has backed away from plans to give the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship because of concerns about upsetting China, Italian media reported Thursday.
The Milan city council had planned to vote on making the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen before his visit next week. Officials in Venice and Rome have already honored the Tibetan spiritual leader.
City leaders came under pressure from the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Chinese ambassador to drop the idea, La Repubblica reported. Milan reportedly worried that the move could also poison its talks with China before the Italian city hosts an international exposition in 2015.
The city council scuttled the move, upsetting the president of the Tibetan community of Milan, who told Tempi that giving in to China would "cover Milan with shame." The mayor reportedly said he would nonetheless welcome the Dalai Lama to their city hall, an offer that didn't appease his critics.
"Today, I am ashamed to be a representative of a council and a city that are scared," said city council member Pietro Tatarella, who wanted to give the Dalai Lama the honor, according to La Repubblica.
The furor over pulling back the honor has led other Italian cities to say they’ll make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen in their towns. The mayor of Matera said the city was committed to defending human rights around the world, including in China, Adnkronos reported.
Hosting the Dalai Lama has been politically sticky for European leaders hoping to stay in the good graces of China. After British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in May, China canceled a scheduled visit to Britain by one of its top officials. In Scotland, where the Dalai Lama is visiting this week, opposition parties have accused political leaders of snubbing the Tibetan spiritual leader to appease China, the BBC reported Thursday. Scottish leaders denied that, but emphasized that the trip to Scotland was "pastoral," not "political."
Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire this year to protest what they say is an increasingly heavy hand imposed by the Chinese government on Tibetan religious life. Two Tibetans immolated themselves Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: The Dalai Lama makes an address during a service of prayer and reflection attended by representatives from different religious groups at Westminster Abbey in central London on Wednesday. Credit: Dominic Lipinski / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images