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Dalai Lama urges Buddhists to halt attacks on Muslims

During a speech marking his 79th birthday, the Tibetan leader urged followers in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to stay peaceful

In a speech marking his 79th birthday, the Dalai Lama on Sunday reiterated his plea to Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to halt violence against Muslims.

The spiritual leader, who fled Tibet for India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, said that violence targeting minority Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and Sri Lanka was unacceptable.

"I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime," he said to devotees on the outskirts of Leh, high in the Himalayas in northern India.

"Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking."

Sectarian violence escalated in Myanmar in 2012 and has since overshadowed dramatic, internationally praised political reforms there. The turmoil has largely targeted Muslims from the Rohingya ethnic minority, leaving at least 250 people dead. An estimated 140,000 have been displaced after Buddhists razed Muslims’ homes.

A combination of ethnic and economic tensions has fueled recent violence between Buddhists and Muslims in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Some radical monks have encouraged violence against Muslims, who they fear are taking over their communities by converting Buddhist children and marrying Buddhist women, as well as increasing their birthrate. The success of Muslim-owned businesses and the near-monopoly of certain industries have also troubled struggling Buddhists.

Last month in Sri Lanka, four people were killed and hundreds of shops and homes were damaged in the island's worst sectarian violence in recent decades.

The Dalai Lama also expressed shock at a wave of deadly violence by Sunni armed groups against fellow Muslims. But he refrained from directly referring to Iraq, where such rebels have overrun swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.

The Dalai Lama celebrated his birthday at his residence on the outskirts of Leh in Ladakh, a mainly Buddhist region. He was there to confer Kalachakra, a Buddhist process meant to empower tens of thousands of his disciples to attain enlightenment.

Two years ago, the Nobel Peace Prize winner announced that he was retiring from political duties, and bestowed more authority on the prime minister of the Tibetan exile community. He devolved power in an attempt to lessen his own iconic status and secure the movement's future after his death. He remains the universally recognized face of the Tibetan movement and a prominent advocate for religious tolerance.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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