The Dalai Lama (photo) announced a plan to transfer his political responsibilities to an elected figure, saying it would be to the long-term benefit of Tibetans.
Tibet’s spiritual leader and head of government-in-exile will start the formal process of stepping down next Monday, at a meeting of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile.
The Dalai Lama made this announcement in a speech in Dharamsala, the Indian town that has become his base, while marking the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.
“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he said.
“Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.”
The Dalai Lama emphasised that his decision was in the best interests of the Tibetan people, and was not made because he wanted to “shirk responsibility” or felt disheartened.
He explained that next week, when the parliament meets, he would formally propose the constitutional amendments necessary to devolve formal authority to an elected leader.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to Dharamsala after the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, says he only wants meaningful autonomy for Tibet, not independence.
In his speech he called the Chinese authorities, who routinely criticise him, to show more transparency and allow greater freedom of expression.
In Beijing, the Dalai Lama’s announcement was described as trickery by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
“He has often talked about retirement in the past few years. I think these are his tricks to deceive the international community,” Jiang Yu said.
“The government-in-exile is an illegal political organisation and no country in the world recognises it.”
Travel restrictions to Tibet have recently been announced by Chinese officials, ahead of the third anniversary of riots there.
A wave of violent anti-China protests took place in Tibet in March 2008, the worst unrest there for 20 years.
Blaming the unrest on followers of the Dalai Lama, China responded with a massive military crackdown.
On Wednesday, more than 30 Tibetan exiles protesting outside the Chinese embassy were detained by police in the Indian capital Delhi. Wearing yellow T-shirts, the protesters waved red and blue Tibetan flags, chanting “Free Tibet” and “We want freedom”.
The Chinese government is accused by many Tibetans of trying to dilute their culture using the growing domination of China’s majority Han population in Tibet.