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Birthday gift is ‘no Dalai Lama’, says disappointed Tutu

Desmond Tutu is disappointed at South Africa’s reluctance to grant the Dalai Lama a visa for his 80th birthday and says he expects his birthday gift will be “no Dalai Lama”, a report said Friday.

The retired archbishop had invited his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate and close friend to give an inaugural peace lecture on October 8 as part of a three-day programme to celebrate his birthday.

But he said he believed South Africa was holding off an announcement to avoid negative criticism.

“I think my birthday gift is going to be: no Dalai Lama,” Tutu told the weekly Mail&Guardian.

“It’s unlikely that they’ll give him a visa. If they were going to, they would have done so already. I think they’re going to hold on so there’s little time for people to get nasty against the government. It’s sad.”

Pretoria has refused to say if it will allow or block the Dalai Lama after causing an outcry when it barred his entry two years ago over fears of angering China who is the country’s biggest national trade partner.

“We’re still hoping against hope that he’ll be here,” Tutu told the newspaper.

“He draws so many people and, I can tell you, I’m not jealous,” he then quipped with his trademark sense of humour and laugh.

After campaigning against apartheid’s white minority leaders, Tutu is seen as the country’s moral compass and has remained a frequent critic of the government even after the fall of apartheid rule.

“I am not their blue-eyed boy,” he said when asked if he could use his influence to try and win over authorities.

Events to mark his birthday start on Thursday with the launch of a new biography, followed by a public church service the next day. The Dalai Lama lecture had been due to wrap up events.

Human Rights Watch urged South Africa to grant the visa, saying that its reluctance seemed to be based on nothing other than fear of upsetting China.

“For the government to block a leader who supported South Africa’s struggles is not only to deny its own history, but it raises questions about whether the government looks to Pretoria, or to Beijing, for some of its domestic policy decisions,” said Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa director.

“There are few better ways to honor Archbishop Tutu, and that for which he and South Africa stand, than by acting on principle rather than perceived political expediency,” said Bekele.

Foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela on Friday described Tutu as someone “we respect profoundly” but said reactions to a decison that had not been made were “slightly problematic”.

“People must not preempt the process and respond to a decision which has yet to be made,” he told independent television news eNEWS.

“There is no decision as yet from where we are sitting given that this is an application that we can only say was a concrete application on the 20th of September,” he said, adding that it was being processed.

The offices of Tutu and the Dalai Lama have denied that the Tibetan had not met visa requirements and slammed the state’s response as “profoundly disrespectful.”

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on Friday wrapped up a “successful” official trip to China with a visit to President Hu Jintao, his office said in a statement with no mention of the visa controversy.

Trade and investment deals were sealed, and China also “undertook to facilitate more imports from South Africa, especially high value added products”, it said.