Hundreds of Buddhist monks plan to gather in the centre of Oxford today - to protest against a visit by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama is due to speak at the Sheldonian Theatre and up to 1,000 members of the Western Shugden Society plan to demonstrate outside.

They claim the Tibetan leader has banned a traditional Buddhist prayer, the Dorje Shugden, and worship of a deity, while his followers are abusing the human rights of Shugden Buddhists.

Speaking yesterday at the Randolph Hotel, in Beaumont Street, Oxford, Kelsang Pema, the spokesman for the Western Shugden Society, said the demonstration would be peaceful but noisy.

Extra police will be on duty and Catte Street will be closed throughout the morning.

Kelsang Pema said: "We want the world to see these demonstrations and hope we can get the Dalai Lama to lift this religious ban, which is infringing people's human rights.
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"In India, monks have been expelled, houses burned, supporters denied food and thousands of families ostracised, because Shugden is perceived as acting against the Dalai Lama.

"He comes to this country and tells us about love and compassion, but he is not practising what he is teaching.

"We will be making a lot of noise and we won't stop until he stops this religious persecution.

"We hope this demonstration will bring about a meaningful discussion with him."

Supporters are expected in Oxford from as far away as Brazil, New Zealand, Hong Kong and South Africa.

Many of them have been following the Dalai Lama around the UK, including London and Nottingham in recent weeks.

Kelsang Pema claims a referendum initiated by the Dalai Lama aims to ban the Shugden prayer across the world. She denied the group shared links with China or was harmful.

Mark Leonard, of the Oxford-based Society for Wider Understanding of the Buddhist Tradition, which is hosting the Dalai Lama's talk, said: "We welcome freedom of speech and our understanding is this is an internal matter within Tibetan Buddhism."

Supt Brendan O'Dowda, of Oxford police, said: "We're very used to dealing with high-profile visitors in Oxford and will deal with this event in a sensitive and professional manner."

By Matt Wilkinson

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