Source AP ©

Dalai Lama starts Italian visit

There is no papal audience scheduled for the Dalai Lama, but there are some other officials meetings planned for him during his 10-day visit to Italy .

"I'm sorry I won't meet him," the Italian news agency quoted the Dalai Lama as saying about Pope Benedict XVI.

"Given that I'm here, I would like to have seen him."

Italian news agencies, without identifying their sources, had reported that Benedict planned to meet with him on Dec. 13, but the Vatican later said there were no such plans.

Benedict met with the Dalai Lama last year. His present visit to Italy comes as the Vatican has stepped up efforts to improve church relations with China and an audience would clearly anger Beijing.

The Dalai Lama's recent meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush drew strong rebukes from Beijing, which claims he wants to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama insists he only seeks autonomy for Tibet, which China has occupied since 1951.

Among his activities in Milan are a meeting with the president of the Lombardy region and a ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize winners hosted by the Milan mayor. He is due in Rome next week.

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