DHARMSALA, India (AP) — A Harvard-trained legal scholar was sworn in Monday as new head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, taking over from the Dalai Lama as leader of his people's fight for freedom.
The Dalai Lama, 76, announced in March he would be giving up his political role as leader of the Tibetan exile movement, though he would remain the spiritual leader for Tibetan Buddhists.
Lobsang Sangay, who was elected in April by tens of thousands of Tibetans in exile, was surrounded by hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns as well as the Dalai Lama as he took the oath of office in the northern Indian city of Dharmsala, where the exile administration is based.
Sangay has vowed to follow the Dalai Lama's approach of seeking increased autonomy for Tibet within China. China refuses to recognize Sangay's authority.
"We will continue the Middle Way policy. We are also willing to negotiate with the Chinese government any time, anywhere," Sangay told a huge crowd that gathered for the ceremony at the Tsuglakhang temple.
Sangay said he would work to fulfill the vision of the Dalai Lama to create a truly secular democratic society.
"Tibetan leadership is far from fizzling out. ... We are here to stay," Sangay said.
Scores of Tibetans playing traditional musical instruments and hundreds of children, men and women cheered as the Dalai Lama accompanied the new leader to the temple for the brief ceremony. Later, the crowds applauded as the Dalai Lama hugged and blessed the new leader after the ceremony.
Sangay's election as the Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, marks many firsts. He was born in the eastern Indian town of Darjeeling and has never visited Tibet. He is also the first secular leader to take over the political leadership of the Tibetan community.
The Dalai Lama, the 14th in a line of men said to be the living incarnation of Chenrezig, a Buddhist god of compassion, says he needed to resign as political leader because he feared chaos would erupt after his eventual death, when the Chinese government and Buddhist monks are certain to argue over the identity of his successor.
"Now, that danger is no longer there," he said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in northern India in 1959. The Indian government allowed him to establish the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, setting up schools, hospitals and housing for the hundreds of thousands of Tibetans who fled China over the past five decades.
The Dalai Lama, one of the world's best known leaders, and worshipped as a near-deity by most Tibetans, has said he will continue to advocate for the Tibetan people and will allow the exile government's envoys to act in his name.
China, which has vilified him for decades as a separatist troublemaker but dislikes the exile government even more, is also forcing him to remain involved. Chinese leaders have said they will only hold negotiations — which have gone on for nine fruitless rounds already — with his representatives.