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When the Dalai Lama dies, his reincarnation will be a religious crisis. Here’s what could happen

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By Ben Westcott, CNN
Updated 1:10 AM ET, Tue February 16, 2021

Hong Kong (CNN) — A decade ago, the Dalai Lama set himself a significant deadline.

The best-known living Buddhist figure in the world said that when he turned 90 years old, he would decide whether he should be reincarnated — potentially ending a role that has been key to Tibetan Buddhism for more than 600 years, but in recent decades has become a political lightning rod in China.
While the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is reportedly still in good health, he is now 85 and questions over his succession are growing, along with fears that his death could spark a religious crisis in Asia.
After an unsuccessful revolt against the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India where he established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, leading thousands of Tibetans who have followed him there. While the Dalai Lama had originally hoped his exile would only be temporary, Beijing’s control of Tibet has only tightened, making a return unlikely anytime soon.
    Today, Beijing views him as a separatist with the aim of breaking Tibet away from China, and is therefore keen for the next reincarnation of his role to fall in line with its own political aims.
    Since 1974, the Dalai Lama has said he does not seek independence from China for Tibet, but a “meaningful autonomy” that would allow Tibet to preserve its culture and heritage.
    Over the years, the Dalai Lama has floated a number of options for his reincarnation, including picking a new successor himself in India, rather than in Tibet — and has even toyed with the idea of a woman taking on the role.
    Experts, however, have said that, regardless of what he chooses, the Chinese government will almost certainly move to pick a new Dalai Lama in Tibet — one who is expected to support the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control of the region.
    That could lead to two separate Dalai Lamas being chosen — one in China and one in India.
    Tenzin Tseten, a research fellow at the Dharamsala-based Tibet Policy Institute, said the Dalai Lama was of great significance to the Tibetan people and a symbol of their “nationalism and identity.” “The Tibetan people will never accept a CCP-appointed Dalai Lama,” Tenzin said.

    History of the Dalai Lama

    The Dalai Lama has been reincarnated 13 times since 1391, when the first of his incarnates was born, and normally a centuries-old method is used to find the new leader.
    The search begins when the previous Dalai Lama passes away. Sometimes it is based on signs that the former incarnation gave before he died, at other times top lamas — a monk or priest of varying seniority who teaches Buddhism — will go to a sacred lake in Tibet, Lhamo Lhatso, and meditate until they have a vision of where to search for his successor.
    Then they send out search parties across Tibet, looking for children who are “special” and born within a year of the Dalai Lama’s death, according to Ruth Gamble, an expert in Tibetan religion at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
    “There’s a heavy responsibility on these people to get it right,” she said.
    Once they find a number of candidates, the children are tested to determine whether they are the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Some of the methods include showing the children items which belong to the previous incarnation.
    According to the 14th Dalai Lama’s official biography, he was discovered when he was two years old. The son of a farmer, the Dalai Lama was born in a small hamlet in northeastern Tibet, where just 20 families struggled to make a living from the land.
    As a child, he recognized a senior lama who had disguised himself to observe the local children, and successfully identified a number of items belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama.
    In his autobiography, “My Land and My People,” the Dalai Lama wrote that he was handed sets of identical or similar items — including rosaries, walking sticks and drums — one of which had belonged to the previous incarnation and one which was ordinary. In every case, he chose the correct one.
    But the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation hasn’t always been found in Tibet. The fourth Dalai Lama was found in Mongolia, while the sixth Dalai Lama was discovered in what is currently Arunachal Pradesh, India.
    “The most important thing is the centuries old Tibetan reincarnation system is built on people’s faith in rebirth,” said Tenzin, from the Tibet Policy Institute.

    What the Tibetan government-in-exile might do

    At the moment, there are no official instructions laying out how the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation will take place, if he dies before returning to Tibet.
    But in that significant 2011 statement, the 14th Dalai Lama said that “the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized.”
    The Dalai Lama added that if he chose to reincarnate, the responsibility for finding the 15th Dalai Lama will rest on the Gaden Phodrang Trust, a India-based group he founded after going into exile to preserve and promote Tibetan culture and support the Tibetan people.
    The Dalai Lama said that his reincarnation should be carried out “in accordance with past tradition.” “I shall leave clear written instructions about this,” he said in 2011. CNN reached out to the Gaden Phodrang Trust to see if new instructions had been issued but did not receive a reply.
    One thing that has become increasingly clear is that the reincarnation is unlikely to take place in Tibet, an area the Gaden Phodrang Trust cannot even access — especially after the contested reincarnation of the Panchen Lama in the 1990s.
    Following the 1989 death of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama named Tibetan child Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as his colleague’s reincarnation.
    Gamble, from La Trobe University, said that during the selection process, the Tibetan government-in-exile was secretly in contact with people in Tibet which allowed it to find the reincarnation in a traditional manner.
    But three days after he was chosen, according to the US government, Gedhun and his family were disappeared by the CCP, which then appointed an alternative Panchen Lama. Gedhun hasn’t been seen in public since.
    What the Tibetans-in-exile learned from that experience, said Gamble, is “if you recognize someone inside the PRC and they’re really high level, they won’t be able to get them out.”

    What the Chinese government will do

    The Chinese government has very publicly telegraphed its intentions for the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation — it will take place in Tibet and it will be in accordance with Beijing’s wishes.
    In 2007, the Chinese government’s State Religious Affairs Bureau published a document which laid out “management measures” for the reincarnation of living Tibetan Buddhas.
    The document said that the reincarnations of Tibetan religious figures must be approved by Chinese government authorities, and those with “particularly great impact” must be approved by the State Council, China’s top civil administration body currently led by Premier Li Keqiang.
    “(Beijing) asserts control over the searches, testing, recognition, education, and training of religious figures,” said Tseten, from the Tibet Policy Institute.
    There are few specifics about the process of reincarnation in the Chinese government’s document, except to recognize the so-called “golden urn” process, which was introduced into Tibet by the Qing Dynasty in the 1790s and sees the names of potential child candidates put into a small golden urn and selected at random.
    According to Chinese state-run media, it was put in place to help “eliminate corrupt practices” in the choice of reincarnations.
    However, in his 2011 statement, the Dalai Lama said the golden urn was only used to “humor” the Qing emperors, and the reincarnations were already chosen before the names were drawn. The urn was not used in the 14th Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.
    “Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China,” said the Dalai Lama in his statement in 2011.

    An authoritative circle

    In an update of its Tibetan Policy and Support Act in December 2020, the US threatened to sanction any Chinese government officials who chose a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama over the wishes of the Tibetan people.
    But experts said that the CCP has been using a far more insidious method to prepare for the selection of the next Dalai Lama. In recent years, Beijing has been selecting and grooming a group of senior lamas who are friendly to Beijing, according to experts.
    When the time comes to select the Dalai Lama’s successor, they might make it appear that the Dalai Lama was chosen by Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders, rather than CCP officials.
    La Trobe University’s Gamble said the reincarnation process has been based on the steady building of religious authority over generations, as one lama recognized another’s reincarnation, and then that lama in turn recognized his patron when they returned as a child.
    “Their authority lends authority to the next Dalai Lama and then that Dalai Lama gives them back authority by finding them when they’re kids and that’s what the Chinese government are trying to get themselves involved in, to destabilize that authoritative circle,” she said.
    Tenzin, from the Tibet Policy Institute, said that Beijing had been slowly raising the profile of their chosen Panchen Lama, who has recently appeared at senior CCP meetings and went on an international visit to Thailand in 2019, to try and build his authority when he selects the 15th Dalai Lama. The Panchan Lama is part of the group of senior lamas who will do the selecting — another example of this group being groomed and selected by Beijing.
    What geopolitical impact the Dalai Lama’s death might have on the Tibetans-in-exile is unclear. India has increasingly viewed the community in Dharamsala as a political vulnerability, and some worry that without the Dalai Lama there may be pressure put on the group to leave.
    But neither Gamble nor Tenzin, from the Tibet Policy Institute, believed that having two Dalai Lamas would have a huge impact on the legacy of Tenzin Gyatso. “People still keep the photos of the 10th Panchen Lama around as a way of getting around (his reincarnation). They send his teachings and read his books,” Gamble said. “I don’t think the Dalai Lama’s death will end the devotion to him in the way that the CCP thinks it will.”
    Both experts said they believed that while protests against the CCP’s chosen Dalai Lama would be difficult to carry out in Tibet with Beijing keeping a tight grip over the Himalayan region, he would have very little influence over Tibetans compared to his predecessor.
    Tenzin said the CCP’s treatment of the new Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, gives an indication of the pressure the party could apply to any future Dalai Lama — whether Beijing selects him or not.
    According to international advocacy group Human Rights Watch, the current Panchen Lama effectively lives under house arrest in Beijing.
      “He is not even able to live in his own monastery,” Tenzin said.
      CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of the Gaden Phodrang Trust. The group is based in India.

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      Nigeria crashed aircraft was on rescue mission for kidnapped schoolchildren

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      By Nimi Princewill, CNN
      Updated 10:13 AM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

      Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigeria’s airforce has said its plane, which crashed shortly after take-off from Abuja airport on Sunday morning — killing everyone on board — was on a mission to rescue the schoolchildren kidnapped last week.

      A spokesman told CNN the aircraft was on surveillance operations in Niger State as part of efforts to rescue at least 42 schoolchildren and staff members taken by gunmen from the Government Science School Kagara last Wednesday. One student died during the attack.
      Air Vice-Marshal Ibikunle Daramola told CNN on Monday afternoon that the air force had donated the military plane to a joint task force coordinating the rescue operation in Kagara.
      “The rescue effort is being coordinated by a multi-agency team… the crashed aircraft was part of the air force’s contribution to the rescue mission,” he added.
        Daramola told CNN that the airforce would continue to support the rescue operation.
          He added that all families of the personnel have been informed, and an investigation launched.
          The ongoing rescue efforts followed a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces and police to ensure all captives are rescued.

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          Protests in Haiti as political standoff continues

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          By Caitlin Hu and Etant Dupain, CNN
          Updated 7:44 PM ET, Sun February 21, 2021

          (CNN) — Large crowds of Haitians took to the streets again on Sunday, as a standoff between President Jovenel Moise and the country’s opposition movement stretched into its third week.

          “Those of us fighting, who want another Haiti, a Haiti pearl of the Antilles, say no to the dictatorship,” one protester told Reuters in capital city Port-au-Prince, where Haitian opposition and civil society groups had called the demonstration. Another criticized the United States and international organizations for supporting the President.
          At the heart of protests is a dispute over the President’s term limit: Moise has served only four years of the usual five, and says his term ends in 2022 — a stance backed by the United States, United Nations and Organization of American States.
          Protesters, however, say he should have stepped down February 7, citing a constitutional provision that starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
            “We want the international community (to) understand that the Haiti people won’t back down on their demands. Jovenel Moise must leave the national palace for a peaceful transition that can lead us to the elections,” opposition leader André Michel told CNN on Sunday.
            This month’s protests also reflect years of increasing bitterness in Haiti over the country’s economic pain and violent crime. Killings and a wave of hundreds of kidnappings in particular have driven public outrage, according to a recent United Nations report, which recorded a monthly average of 84 demonstrations in the second half of 2020.
            Moise has blamed his administration’s poor record in dealing with such fundamental issues on the country’s system of governance, and on complications and lack of clarity in the constitution itself. “Since the beginning of my term, the country has never known stability,” he acknowledged in a February 12 tweet.
            With an eye toward empowering the office of the president for the future, he has vowed to hold a referendum on changes to the constitution in April. This will be his legacy project, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told CNN.
            However, critics are skeptical of the legitimacy of any constitutional changes made in the current political climate and without institutional checks and balances in place. General elections are expected to follow in the fall.
              In a speech last Sunday, amid celebrations for Carnival, which he celebrated with large crowds of supporters and revelers, Moise expressed his determination to see the country through another year.
              “Haiti is for me, for my kids, for the people here dancing. The people who don’t want me to do the people’s work will stop, or I will make them stop. I was elected to do a job, and I will do it,” he said.

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              Oil spill leads Israel to close beaches as it faces ‘severe ecological disaster’

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              By Sharif Paget
              Updated 1:41 PM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

              (CNN) — Israeli authorities are trying to locate the source of a suspected oil spill that has been described as one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit the country, threatening wildlife, forcing beaches to close and prompting a mass cleanup.

              Blobs of sticky tar started washing up on the country’s Mediterranean shores last week. Images posted on official government accounts showed sea birds and turtles covered in tar and sticky oil.
              “The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel,” the country’s Nature and Parks Authority said Sunday.
              The extent of the pollution is so bad, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued an advisory Sunday urging people to stay away from the country’s beaches.
                A massive cleanup is underway but the Nature and Parks Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again. It has established a registration and information center for volunteers who wish to help.
                “I was very impressed by the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean up the beaches. We must maintain our beaches, our country and the environment,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office.
                “I have just spoken with the Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister who has come to us, and we proposed that every ship that you see here be powered by natural gas instead of polluting fuel, as happened here,” he continued.
                Gamliel said it was their “moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” according to the statement.
                  “We have the possibility of suing the insurance company of the ship that is responsible for the pollution and we will do everything to locate it,” she said.
                  In a separate statement posted to her Twitter account, Gamliel said, “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster, and we will bring to the government’s approval tomorrow a proposal for resolutions to rehabilitate the environment.”

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                  Seven dead in Nigerian military plane crash

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                  Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) Seven people were killed when a Nigerian military plane crashed on approach to Abuja airport on Sunday, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Air Force said.

                  “All 7 personnel on board died in the crash,” Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola said on Twitter.
                  He added that the Chief of the Air Staff has ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
                  “A military aircraft King Air 350 has just crashed short of our Abuja runway after reporting engine failure enroute [to] Minna. It appears to be fatal,” said the country’s aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, confirming the incident in a statement.
                   

                  AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT

                  This is to confirm that a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna. First responders are at the scene. Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash

                  — Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola (@KunleDaramola3) February 21, 2021

                   
                  In a follow-up communication Sunday afternoon, a spokesman at the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, said the “aircraft reported engine failure at time 10:39 and crashed landed on the final approach path of Abuja Runway 22 at time 10:48UTC.”
                  Odaudu said fire fighters have been deployed to the scene to put out a raging blaze that had engulfed the airplane.
                  An aviation worker who asked not to be named — citing lack of official clearance to talk to the press — told CNN that he witnessed the crash.
                  “The crash occurred not very far from the runway. The pilot had tried returning to the runway after taking off,” he said.
                  The worker said the pilot swerved the plane to its crash site which is in a desolate area. He said the aircraft narrowly avoided warehouses and makeshift settlements around the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport.

                   

                   
                   
                   
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                  Why Britain’s anti-immigration politicians are opening the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

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                  By Tara John, CNN
                  Updated 7:29 PM ET, Sat February 20, 2021

                  (CNN) — Eighteen months ago, Malcolm was at the vanguard of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

                  Full of bravado and often clad in black, the 21-year-old oversaw a group of 60 combative front-liners who embraced confrontational tactics against the police while demanding greater democracy in the former British colony.
                  Today, he is applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, and separated from his family in Hong Kong where he feels he can longer visit. Malcom believes if he returns to the Chinese city he could be arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong last June, which scaled up penalties against dissent to include punishments as severe as life imprisonment.
                  Since then, nearly 100 activists have been arrested under the new law. When Hong Kong police apprehended a protester friend of Malcolm’s in October, he booked a red-eye flight to London. Malcolm asked CNN not to use his real name, for fear that his family — who remain in Hong Kong — could face repercussions.
                    The British government has called the security law a clear violation of the “one country, two systems” policy meant to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing until 2047. In its wake, the UK has opened a six-year pathway to British citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) passports (BN(O)), a special visa category created for Hong Kong nationals before the 1997 transfer of power.
                    Sze has settled into London life: She already has strong opinions on the snail’s pace of London buses and is counting the days to when lockdown ends and she can go shopping on Oxford Street.
                    While it can be hard to find the authentic Cantonese cuisine she grew up eating in Hong Kong, Sze marvels at how much cheaper food is at British supermarkets.
                    “The food quality is better, the price is cheaper and the rent is cheaper,” she told CNN.
                    Sze cannot get a job until her BN(O) visa is approved, but she is optimistic that the UK’s coronavirus-induced economic slump will not get in the way of her finding work. “I am open to any [job] option — it really depends on how much savings I have,” she said.
                      But her biggest concern is the fate of fellow dissidents going through the asylum process, and whether her compatriots who move to the UK will give up the fight for independence back home.
                      “Hong Kongers should never give up, no matter if they’ve left Hong Kong or not,” she said.

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