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Three Taiwan groups, outraged by President Ma Ying-jeou’s comment last week that it was not a good time for the Dalai Lama to visit, plan to invite the exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Taiwan for religious purposes, reports said Tuesday.

Kaohsiung County Magistrate Ynag Chiu-hsing on Monday reportedly joined Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in welcoming the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan.

“The majority of Taiwanese support (the) Dalai (Lama)’s visit. We are studying the possibility of inviting world religious leaders, including (the) Dalai (Lama), to attend an inter-faith religious exchange activity which may be called ‘religious United Nations,” Chiu-hsing reportedly said at a meeting of the county government.

On Tuesday DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen also expressed her welcome to the Dalai Lama.

“The Dalai Lama is a courageous and respectful leader as well as a symbol of hope, freedom and human rights in Tibet. He has fought for the freedom of Tibet and raised world awareness and concerns about the difficulties and challenges facing Tibet today. He is a world-respected religious and political leader,” Tsai said in a statement.

“If the Dalai Lama thinks my invitation would be appropriate, it would be the pleasure of both myself and the DPP to invite him for a visit,” the statement said.

The DPP and the Kaohsiung county and Kaohsiung city governments’ invitations come after Ma said last week that it was not appropriate for Dalai to visit Taiwan at the present moment, apparently for fear that the spiritual leader’s visit would hurt the fast-improving Taipei-Beijing ties.

“Certainly the Dalai Lama visited Taiwan twice as a religious leader. We generally welcome religious leaders from all over the world to visit Taiwan, but I think at the current moment, the timing isn’t appropriate for that,” Ma said last week, when asked at a meeting with foreign correspondents in Taipei about the Tibetan leader’s apparent wish to visit the island for a third time.

The remark by the Beijing-friendly President Ma, who in the past welcomed the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, came as a shock to many Taiwanese people, including Buddhist and political groups.

The Dalai Lama made a historic first trip to Taiwan in March 1997 and visited the island again in 2001, triggering strong reaction from China.

Irked by Ma’s remark, Legislative Caucus of the pro-independence DPP, who forged closer ties with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile during their eight-year rule, which ended in May, said they would file a non-binding motion inviting the Tibetan leader. DPP also said Ma’s comments would only create misunderstandings about Taiwan overseas, as well as damage the island’s will to seek democracy and freedom.

“Apparently the decision was another indication of Ma bowing to Beijing’s pressure,” DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang said in a statement last week.

“This again proves that he does not think about Taiwan’s sovereignty. We are suspicious that he is unable adequately to safeguard both Taiwan’s democracy and its sovereignty,” he said.

“I urge the Dalai Lama to drop the idea of visiting Taiwan, because Ma is a ‘puppet emperor’ for Beijing. As long as he is in office, the Dalai Lama cannot possibly be allowed to come here,” DPP parliamentarian Chiu Yi-ying said.

“President Ma rather has the special envoy of a country pointing 1,300 missiles at Taiwan come here than a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” said DPP lawmaker Huang Wei-cher, in a reference to the Nov. 3-7 visit to Taiwan by China’s top cross-straits negotiator Chen Yunlin.

DPP lawmakers contrasted Ma’s recent statements with his words before he took office last May, when he threatened a Taiwanese boycott of the Beijing Olympics over the repression of protests in Tibet.

Even parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng – a senior member of the governing Kuomintang – suggested the president should think again on the issue. If the main emphasis of the Dalai Lama’s visit is on religion, there is no problem, the Kuomintang politician said.

The Presidential Office later retracted Ma’s comments.

“A visit by the Dalai Lama could still be arranged at a proper time in the future,” presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi said.

Yu-chi said the government has always been concerned about the situation in Tibet and added that Taiwan never received any opinions about the matter from China.