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Thousands Flock to Dalai Lama's Ancient Buddhist Ritual in DC

PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Dalai Lama will celebrate his 76th birthday Wednesday in downtown Washington, D.C., as thousands gather to take part in an ancient Buddhist ritual and a call for world peace.

Meanwhile, international political observers are waiting to see if the exiled Tibetan leader will be granted a meeting with President Obama, just a few blocks away.

It will be the Nobel Peace Prize winner's first official event since stepping down as Tibet's exiled political leader in March and his first since his February 2010 visit to Washington that caused tension in U.S.-Chinese relations.

The grandson and son of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. -- two international icons of nonviolence -- and tens of thousands of followers from around the world are expected to attend the ceremonies at Washington's major sports arena and pay their respects to the Dalai Lama's enduring message of peace.

But even while the majority of his time will be spent conducting religious ceremonies, the Dalai Lama will also have several political meetings in Washington, advocating for the religious and civil rights of his Tibetan Buddhist followers who fled their homeland after a failed 1959 uprising against the Chinese government.

Thousands of exiled Tibetans now live in Nepal, where on Wednesday Nepalese authorities prevented Tibetans from celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday over concerns the gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.  Hundreds of riot police reportedly blocked Tibetans, including many monks and nuns, from entering a school in Kathmandu where celebrations were planned.

The Dalai Lama's last visit to Washington in February 2010 caused a diplomatic spat between the U.S. and China when he met with President Obama at the White House.  The Chinese argue that the Dalai Lama is a dangerous "separatist" who wishes to sever Tibet from China.

The Obama administration has not said whether the president or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the Dalai Lama on this visit -- although he is expected to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill later this week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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