President George W. Bush became the first US leader to appear in public with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, despite fierce opposition from Beijing, AFP reported. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader received the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony held in the US Capitol's rotunda. Bush said he would "continue to urge the leaders of China to welcome the Dalai Lama to China," praising the 72-year-old Buddhist icon for keeping the "flame" of Tibet's people alive. The US leader described the Dalai Lama as a man of peace and reconciliation, stressing that the American people "cannot look to the plight of the religiously oppressed and close our eyes or turn away." The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet for India following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, said he was seeking greater autonomy for the region, not independence from Beijing.