VILNIUS (AFP) – President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, met privately with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, calling it an "honour" and risking China's ire.
China has for decades opposed foreign leaders meeting the exiled spiritual leader, who fled Tibet for India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
"For me it is a honour to be able to meet you," Grybauskaite said in a video from the meeting posted on her website, adding "people love you".
The talks kicked off the 78-year-old Nobel Peace laureate's four-day visit to Lithuania, where he will also visit parliament and deliver a public lecture.
Beijing accuses him of encouraging separatism and violence but the Dalai Lama says he is peacefully seeking rights for Tibetans and accepts Chinese rule.
He was among the first public figures to welcome Lithuanian independence in 1990 after a half-century of Soviet occupation.
"We have a moral debt to the Dalai Lama," Leonidas Donskis, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament, told AFP Wednesday.
He added that the Dalai Lama, who has visited Lithuania twice before, is a global symbol of non-violence -- the chosen tactic during Lithuania's independence drive.
A nation of three million people, Lithuania assumed the EU's half-year rotating presidency on July 1.
Earlier Wednesday, activists handed Grybauskaite a petition with 6,000 signatures calling on her to raise the Tibet issue on the EU agenda.