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The Dalai Lama will keep his spiritual role but wants to lessen his political burden as he moves into “retirement,” an official in the Tibetan spiritual leader’s office said.

The remarks came after the 71-year-old exiled spiritual head told students in the United States that he would “retire completely” within a few years and was already “semi-retired”.

“The political leadership will be transferred over a period of time but he will continue to be the spiritual leader because as the Dalai Lama, the issue of relinquishing the post does not arise,” a senior spokesman for the Tibetan leader, Chhime Rigzing, said.

“The temporal part (of his role) he wants to transfer,” he added by telephone from the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalayas, that serves as the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

But “you can’t transfer spiritual leadership in Buddhism, you can’t change that.”

The Dalai Lama, who maintains a hectic work, prayer and travel schedule and rises before dawn each day, has lived in Dharamsala since fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

China has ruled Tibet since sending troops in to “liberate” the region in 1951 and has violently suppressed a number of uprisings since then.

The Dalai Lama would like the elected Tibetan parliament-in-exile, which is the policy-making body for tens of thousands of refugees who have fled Tibet – most of whom live in India – to have more responsibility, said Mr Rigzing.

“His Holiness has already been taking a less active role in day-to-day administration – delegating more responsibility to the elected leadership,” he said.

But “he will continue to be the spokesperson of the six million Tibetans, because he is undisputedly the leader of the Tibetans – people look up to him to lead.”

The Dalai Lama, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his dedication to Tibet’s non-violent liberation, has abandoned his original demands of independence for his homeland.

He instead talks of “meaningful autonomy” to preserve Tibet’s language, culture and environment.

China has rejected the overtures of the Dalai Lama, who it regards as a traitorous troublemaker.

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