WASHINGTON (WUSA9) --Hundreds of protestors showed up outside the Washington Hilton for the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning where both the Dalai Lama and President Obama were in attendance.
One group of protestors was there to support the Dalai Lama; the other group was protesting him. Those upset with His Holiness say he discriminates against a specific religious group within the Buddhist community. His supporters say that's not the case.
This is the first time the President and the Dalai Lama have been in the same public place at the same time in spite of China's disapproval. Both groups agree the President and the Dalai Lama should meet.
"To the world what the Dalai Lama represents is freedom, justice, the truth, and anytime the President can be with someone like the Dalai Lama, I think it's a good thing. It also shows they are not scared of China," says Jigme Gorap with the Capital Area Tibetan Association. "We are here to show our support for the Dalai Lama, to greet him and to wish him well and we are proud of everything he has done for us, not just for the Tibetans but for people all over the world."
"We are hoping the President will speak to him, because the President is outspoken on religious rights, on religious freedom, on ending discrimination and we are hoping he will have a word with the Dalai Lama to say 'look, what you're doing is undermining your own cause,'" says Nicholas Pitts with the International Shugden Community.
The President and the Dalai Lama have meet before, but never in public. The Tibetan leader is viewed by the Chinese Government as a dissident. "Whenever there are political leaders that step up beyond that and stand up for human rights and freedom and are willing to meet with the Dalai Lama, we give kudos to them," says Gorap.
"The Dalai Lama talks about peace and tolerance, but he's created an atmosphere of hatred in his own community, we are standing up for these people's rights. They are refused services in shops and restaurants even medical facilities and it's outrageous in this day and age. That someone who promotes this beautiful agenda of tolerance and harmony, actually behind the scenes in his own community is creating his own kind of suffering. There is no need for this to be going on," says Pitts.
The International Shugden Community says they will stop protesting if they get one thing: "We want him to publicly say and put it in writing, that he doesn't support the discrimination that it's been a terrible misunderstanding, if he does that, this all stops. We don't want to be protesting against him. We want to support him if possible, but if he is discriminating against our people, we have to stand up for our rights," says Pitts.
Representatives of Capital Area Tibeten Association say that's not the case. "What they are claiming is the Dalai Lama is intolerant in terms of religious freedoms, which is absolutely not true," says Gorap. "He hasn't banned it, they can practice whatever they want." Instead, CATA members are outside the Washington Hilton to support His Holiness. "We are really happy, every time he comes to town we are in full force, coming here to greet him, wish him well."
Dancers doing the traditional Tibetan Circle Dance performed as well. "We are here basically showing our country, showing our appreciation, celebrating," says Gorap.