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BEIJING (AFP) - Tibetan living Buddhas are no longer allowed to be reincarnated without permission from the atheist Chinese government, state media reported Friday.

The new rules are "an important move to institutionalise the management of reincarnation of living Buddhas," the Xinhua news agency said.

According to the regulations, which take effect on September 1, all reincarnation applications must be submitted to religious affairs officials for approval, Xinhua said.

China is ruled by the Communist Party, which, despite being officially atheist, maintains strict controls over Tibetan Buddhism and all other religions.

Living Buddhas are an important element in Tibetan Buddhism, forming a clergy of influential religious figures who are believed to be continuously reincarnated to take up their positions anew.

Often there is more than one candidate competing to be recognised as the actual reincarnation, and the authority to decide who is the true claimant carries significant power.

This is especially true in the case of the Panchen Lama, the second-most influential figure in Tibetan Buddhism behind the Dalai Lama.

Chinese authorities detained the Dalai Lama's choice as the Panchen Lama in 1995 when the boy was six years old, and he has not been seen in public since.

The Chinese government's choice as the Panchen Lama has meanwhile been paraded around the country in recent years to promote China's rule over his homeland.

China sent troops in to "liberate" Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama later fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising and established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala.