Dalai Lama risks Chinese fury by preaching in Mongolia
The Dalai Lama has preached to thousands of Buddhists in Mongolia, despite demands from China that the visit should be scrapped as Mongolia seeks a critical aid package from its powerful neighbour.
The Dalai Lama spoke about materialism as he addressed followers at the Gandantegchenlin monastery, at the start of a four-day visit which Mongolia says is purely religious in nature and will not include meetings with officials.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is scheduled to chant special sutras at a large sports facility built by Chinese companies through Chinese aid.
The trip could have repercussions for land-locked Mongolia's relationship with China, who protested over previous visits by the Dalai Lama by briefly closing its border in 2002 and temporarily cancelling flights from Beijing in 2006.
China's foreign ministry had demanded that the Dalai Lama's visit should be cancelled. Spokesman Geng Shuang said the Dalai Lama is a "political exile" who has the aim of "alienating Tibet from China".
Mr Geng appealed to Mongolia to maintain "the general picture of a sound and steady development of bilateral ties (and) earnestly stick to its commitment on Tibet-related issues".
The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing Tibet during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
His visit comes as Mongolian leaders are seeking a 4.2 billion dollar (£3.4 billion) loan from Beijing to pull the country out of a deep recession. With commodity prices slumping, Mongolia is running out of hard currency to repay foreign debts and is seeking help from a neighbour which accounts for roughly 90% of its exports.
Mongolian Buddhism is closely tied to Tibet's strain and many in the heavily Buddhist country revere the Dalai Lama, who made his first visit in 1979.
Mongolian religious figures say the visit could be the last for the 81-year-old spiritual leader, and some of his followers travelled hundreds of miles to see him in the coldest November temperatures in a decade.