China row marks Dalai Lama's UK visit?
London: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama began his eight-day visit to Britain on Friday amidst a controversy between China and the Leeds City Council, which will host China's pre-Olympic training camp in the city.
China has allegedly threatened to pull out its athletes from the camp and cancel the 250,000 pounds contract it has signed with Leeds if the Dalai Lama were allowed to visit the city and deliver a keynote address on business ethics at the Yorkshire International Business Convention.
Relations between Britain and China have been frosty after Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama during his visit to London to receive the Templeton Prize in May.
The Dalai Lama, who arrived at the Manchester Airport today, was greeted on the steps of the Lowry hotel by Salford mayor Ian Stewart in a traditional Tibetan scarf ceremony.
The event is expected to go ahead after the council removed any association with the convention.
Council chief executive Tom Riordan said in a brief statement that the convention was a private event not organised by the council.
Mike Firth, the event's founder, said Leeds city council told him officials from the Chinese embassy had suggested it put pressure on him to cancel the Dalai Lama's visit.
Firth told The Guardian: "(The council) said their response was that it was a private event and they were not prepared to do that, and that was the end of it.
"Here we have an unelected communist state coming and dictating to local politicians. What we pride ourselves on in this country is freedom of speech. Clearly, they don't.
"(The Dalai Lama) is not coming to give a political speech but to talk about business ethics".
Leeds is due to host China's pre-Olympic Games training centre, with about 220 athletes, coaches and support staff based in the city from early July.
Last month, senior Chinese leader Wu Bangguo cancelled his visit to Britain after Cameron and Clegg met the Dalai Lama in London.
Besides the Leeds event, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to deliver public talks in Manchester and London.
The Manchester event, compered by popular comedian Russell Brand, will include the spiritual leader's talk titled 'Century of Dialogue - Stand up and Be the Change'.
The Manchester event on Saturday is free for those aged 25 and under, and has a fee of 25 pounds for others.