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Cape Town Nobel summit scrapped over Dalai Lama visa row

Cape Town’s mayor on Thursday “suspended” a planned summit of Nobel peace laureates, blaming the South African government’s “intransigence” in refusing to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.

South Africa has refused three times to grant the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a visa as it builds closer ties with rising superpower China.

The latest rejection prompted a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners to threaten to boycott the October event.

“The majority of Nobel Laureates and Laureate institutions requested that either the summit be moved to another country, or that the visa to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, be granted unconditionally,” the city authorities said in a statement.

“Given the continued intransigence of the South African Government on this matter, this eventuality appears unlikely at best,” said the opposition-controlled city.

The summit was meant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid and the legacy of the late first president, Mandela — also a Nobel peace prize winner.

Pretoria’s decision to put realpolitik first has been met with equal consternation by many in Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation”, who view it as a betrayal of his ideals.

Laureate FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president who negotiated an end to apartheid, said he heard news of the suspension with the “greatest sadness”.

“It says a great deal about what our government has become,” De Klerk said in a statement.

“After 1994 South Africa was seen as a beacon of hope for a world longing for justice, reconciliation, integrity and principled governance.”

“The suspension of the Cape Town Summit may be seen by future historians as the point at which South Africa finally lost its claim to represent something special in Africa and something noble in the international community.”

Fellow South African Nobel winner Desmond Tutu accused President Jacob Zuma’s government of “kowtowing” to China. “I’m ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government,” he said.

– ‘Bullying a simple person’ –

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising.

China accuses the 79-year-old monk of being a separatist, while he says he merely wants more autonomy for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama on Thursday accused South Africa of “bullying a simple person”.

The Tibetan leader thanked his fellow peace laureates for their efforts, saying they had “worked hard” to resolve the issue.

He made his comments at a ceremony at his base in the Indian Himalayan town of Dharamshala attended by two fellow laureates — Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and the Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi — both of whom were boycotting the South Africa summit.

Williams accused President Jacob Zuma’s government of “selling its sovereignty” to China.

“Not a single laureate is happy about that decision (to cancel). Fourteen laureates protested to President Zuma, pressuring him, begging him, to give a visa to His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) so that we all could be together and celebrate in South Africa the legacy of Nelson Mandela.”

Previous summits have been held in cities such as Rome, Paris, Chicago and Warsaw.

The Dalai Lama has applied three times in the last five years to visit Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation”.

Each time the government has dragged its feet until the trip was called off.

The country’s top court found in 2012 that the government had acted unlawfully by stalling on a visa application by the Tibetan until it was too late.

China — South Africa’s biggest single trading partner, with two-way trade worth more than $20 billion — regularly uses its economic and political clout to put pressure on governments around the world to limit contact with the Dalai Lama.