Breaking: Dalai Lama to Relinquish Political Role

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REUTERS/Mike Cassese

The revered leader says the Tibetan people need an elected leader.

(More from See TIME’s photographs of the Dalai Lama at his residence in exile.)

The Dalai Lama announced Thursday on his website that he plans to relinquish his power as the head of the exiled spiritual movement. “Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he wrote. “Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.” He said he would work with the government in exile to begin the process of ceding authority.

The announcement falls on the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and the Dalai Lama’s subsequent escape to India. This month is also the 3rd anniversary of the anti-government protests that rocked western China in 2008.

The Dalai Lama used the remarks, which will be delivered in India later today, to call for change in China. The country has the “potential to contribute to human progress and world peace,” but must first earn the “respect and trust” of the international community. “In order to earn such respect China’s leaders must develop greater transparency, their actions corresponding to their words. To ensure this, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are essential.”

Though the announcement is not a surprise, the fact that it comes now — and with a strident critique of China — will surely rankle Beijing.

(More from Read “A Monk’s Struggle” by Pico Iyer.)