PARIS - Paris city council was set today to award honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama in a move sure to stoke tensions with China following anti-French protests there at the weekend.
The decision will "pay tribute to a champion of peace, a tireless advocate of dialogue between peoples," said Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe who made the proposal that is expected to win majority approval.
"Paris also wants to show its support for the people of Tibet who are defending their most basic right to dignity, freedom and simply life," said the mayor.
The honour conferred upon the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader comes amid a chill in relations between France and China following the chaotic Olympic torch relay in Paris two weeks ago that was disrupted by human rights protesters.
A string of protests in several Chinese cities at the weekend targeted the French retailer Carrefour, which was forced to shut down stores, and the US broadcaster CNN, accused of anti-China bias.
Carrefour’s 122 supermarkets have been subject to boycott calls in China after President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to stay away from the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on August 8 to protest China’s policy in Tibet.
Protests directed against Chinese rule rocked the Himalayan region last month, with exiled Tibetan leaders saying more than 150 people died in a government crackdown. China says Tibetan "rioters" killed 18 civilians and two policemen.
While the right-wing national government has not expressed support for the Socialist mayor’s move, it is calling for dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama to settle the conflict over Tibet.
Sarkozy reiterated a call for dialogue during talks Friday with Zhao Jinjun, the special representative of Chinese President Hu Jintao and a former Chinese ambassador to France.
To defuse Chinese anger, Sarkozy sent a letter to wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete Jin Jing, who was forced to shield the torch from pro-Tibet protesters during the Paris leg of the relay on April 7.
"I was shocked to see what happened during the torch relay," Sarkozy said in the letter conveyed by French Senate president Christian Poncelet in Shanghai today. "It is understandable that the Chinese people feel hurt. I hereby strongly condemn what they did."
Two other senior French envoys are to travel to Beijing this week to deliver messages from Sarkozy whose visit to China in November led to billions of dollars in trade deals including a mega-project to build two nuclear reactors.
Former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is due to hold talks with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday and the president’s top diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, arrives at the weekend for meetings.
The Dalai Lama is to visit France in August when China hosts the Olympic Games.
The Olympic torch relay through Paris descended into chaos after protestors and pro-Tibet demonstrators took to the streets to condemn Beijing’s human rights record. Similar protests have marred the torch run in San Francisco and in cities throughout Asia.
The Tibetan leader has also been invited to address the pan-European rights body, the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg in June. China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and officially "liberated" it the following year.
The Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He insists he wants autonomy for Tibet rather than independence.