Tibet Slams China's Panchen Lama Pick

BEIJING -- China named a 6-year-old "soul boy" as Tibet's new Panchen Lama on Wednesday, challenging the exiled Dalai Lama's selection for the second-holiest figure in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. The move left Tibetan Buddhism with rival Panchen Lamas -- one blessed by the Dalai Lama, the Himalayan region's god-king, and one sanctioned by the atheist Communist government.

The anti-China Tibetan government-in-exile swiftly condemned the move, while Beijing launched a nationwide publicity drive to hammer home its soul boy's legitimacy.

Gyaincain Norbu was picked as the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama in a drawing of lots from a gold urn in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The Dalai Lama had announced in May his own recognition of another boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the recipient of the spirit of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in January 1989.

Both are just 6 years old.

The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile assailed Beijing's choice as a Panchen Lama "pretender."

"We are totally outraged," spokesman Tashi Phuntsok said in New Delhi. "They [China] are politicizing our religious matters. They have done this to whip up differences in the Buddhist community. We totally reject what China has done."

China intensified a drive to justify its strategy, using state television to show young Gyaincain Norbu in saffron robes seated among lamas and Communist Party officials beside the urn from which Xinhua said his "lucky number" was drawn.

Xinhua mounted a personal attack on the Dalai Lama's soul boy, saying he had drowned a dog, a "heinous crime in the eyes of Buddha" that made him ineligible to be a top lama.

It attacked his parents as well, alleging that they were not "pious, honest and kind people" and had changed his birthday so he could qualify as a soul-boy candidate.

Despite the attacks, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is seen commanding strong allegiance from Dalai Lama loyalists in Tibet.

"Lhasa is placid on the outside, but its heart is not at ease," a Lhasa factory worker said by telephone. "I am reluctant to believe in the state's selection. I believe in the Dalai Lama. I support the child chosen by the Dalai Lama."

The Dalai Lama's choice had emerged from a state-sanctioned search by senior lamas and was expected by many to be approved by China. But his unilateral announcement enraged Beijing.

China rejected the boy and denounced the Dalai Lama as a traitorous "splittist" who defied Buddhist tradition by failing to seek Beijing's approval and sought only to destabilize Tibet in his quest for Tibetan independence.

China maintains it has the final say over senior lamas under a 1792 agreement with the imperial Qing dynasty. Tibetan exiles dispute this, saying the pact was set not with China but with occupying Manchus who were toppled in 1911.

The 10th Panchen Lama said soon before his death that he and the Dalai Lama should approve each other's reincarnations.