BEIJINGóChina prefaced expected talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama on Saturday by condemning the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader as a criminal, while cloaking the meeting itself in secrecy.
Tibet's government-in-exile announced on Friday that envoys of the Dalai Lama were heading to China to discuss riots and protests across Tibet that have shaken Beijing's preparations for the Beijing Olympics and stoked Western criticism of a security crackdown in the restive mountain region.
The Olympic torch's world tour has been dogged by demonstrations, mostly over China's crackdown in Tibet, which have deeply embarrassed Beijing and provoked retaliatory rallies at home and abroad by patriotic Chinese.
China proposed the talks after a welter of calls from Western governments for it to open new dialogue with the spiritual leader, who says he wants a high level of autonomy and religious freedom for his homeland, which he fled in 1959.
China's state media has not mentioned the planned meeting, the first since the unrest erupted. But on Saturday it continued a torrent of bitter criticism of the Dalai Lama and his supporters, suggesting that Chinese officials are not seeking compromise.
The official Tibet Daily accused the "14th Dalai Lama and his followers of a litany of crimes", according to the region's official news Website (www.chinatibetnews.com).
The paper repeated official claims that the Dalai's "clique" had orchestrated deadly riots in the regional capital, Lhasa, on March 14 to wreck preparations for the Olympics.
"The Dalai clique's hopes of achieving Tibetan independence are increasingly dim, and at this time when their homes have been destroyed, the Dalai clique launched a bloody violent event -- their last bout of madness."
The overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official paper of China's ruling Communist Party, said on Saturday that the Dalai's claims that Tibetans lack religious freedom was a figleaf for seeking the region's outright independence.
"The religion issue is merely a card played by the Dalai clique to garner sympathy from some people," said a commentary in the paper. "The 'Tibet issue' is in essence about schemes for Tibetan independence and engaging in separatism."
The Dalai Lama has said he objects to violence and supports the Beijing Olympics. China says he is insincere.
The two envoys due to arrive in China on Saturday for what the Tibetan side called "informal talks" are Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, both senior and experienced representatives of the Dalai Lama, experts say.
There have been six rounds of dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama's envoys since 2002 with no breakthrough.
The Olympic torch was paraded through Hong Kong on Friday in a festive return to China and will be taken through the gambling hub of Macau on Saturday before its journey through the mainland. A sister flame is awaiting good weather to summit Mount Everest.