U.S. congress okays highest civilian honor for Dalai Lama.

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The U.S. House of Representatives has followed the Senate in passing a bill to confer the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor, on the Dalai Lama.

The House Sept. 13 passed the bill which recognizes the exiled spiritual leader for "his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights, and religious understanding."

The Senate had passed the bill in May and now requires the signature of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Previous winners of the Congressional Gold Medal include Sir Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela.

"A negotiated settlement would ensure internal stability of Tibet and bolster China's reputation in the world," then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a strong supporter of the Tibetan spiritual leader and an original co-sponsor of the bill, said.

China denounced the decision. Qin Gang, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said the decision "seriously interferes with China's internal affair and damages China-U.S. relations."

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition," he said at a regular briefing.


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