DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - For China to find a successor to the Dalai Lama would be like former Cuban leader Fidel Castro choosing the pope, the political head of Tibet's exiles said on Tuesday, in response to comments by a senior Chinese official.
The Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet on Monday accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader of blasphemy for suggesting he would not be reincarnated when he died. The governor, Padma Choling, repeated that Beijing had the right to decide.
Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death. China says the tradition must continue and it must approve the next Dalai Lama.
"It's none of Padma Choling or any of the Communist party's business, mainly because Communism believes in atheism and religion being poisonous," the prime minister of the government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, told Reuters.
"It's like Fidel Castro saying, 'I will select the next pope and all the Catholics should follow.' That is ridiculous," said Sangay, who resides in the Indian mountain town of Dharamsala, like the Dalai Lama.
Sangay's comments came on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Beijing's rule that prompted the Dalai Lama to flee to India, where he has lived since.
In New Delhi, Tibetans scuffled with police outside the Chinese embassy during an anniversary protest.
In an earlier speech, Sangay urged China to allow Tibetans to govern their region, but denied Beijing's accusations that the Dalai Lama and the government in exile were "splittists" seeking Tibetan independence.
The Dalai Lama's envoys were ready to engage in dialogue with their Chinese counterparts at any time, he added.
In the latest of dozens of deadly immolations to protest Chinese rule, a Tibetan women set herself ablaze and died on March 5 in Tibet's Ngawa region, the International Campaign for Tibet said.
Exiles worry that China might simply appoint its own successor to the 79-year-old leader.
In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, China put the child under house arrest and installed another in his place.
The Dalai Lama's private office declined to comment. In the past, the Nobel Peace laureate has said the title could end when he dies.
He has also said he will not be reborn in China if Tibet is not free and no one, including China, had the right to choose his successor "for political ends".
Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Douglas Busvine; and Clarence Fernandez