Dalai Lama cancels South Africa trip over visa

4th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Dalai Lama on Tuesday cancelled a trip to South Africa after Pretoria failed to grant him a visa, fuelling criticism that President Jacob Zuma's administration is appeasing China.

Anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu had invited the Tibetan spiritual leader, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner and longtime friend, to give an inaugural peace lecture as part of celebrations for Tutu's 80th birthday.

"His Holiness was to depart for South Africa on October 6, 2011 but visas have not been granted yet," said a statement from the Dalai Lama's office in India.

"We are, therefore, now convinced that for whatever reason or reasons, the South African government finds it inconvenient to issue visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama," the statement said.

A spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile based in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala said Pretoria had acted out of fear of angering China.

"We are very disappointed that a sovereign nation like South Africa would succumb to Chinese pressure. It is a great pity," spokesman Thubten Samphel told AFP.

South Africa had previously denied the Dalai Lama a visa in 2009 and openly admitted it was acting out of deference to Beijing, which views the Tibetan leader as a "splittist".

The cancellation came after Tutu accused Zuma's government of foot-dragging over the visa application for the week-long trip.

"The only response to the letters received to date have been acknowledgements of receipt," said a statement by Tutu's office.

Zuma had said on Monday that he did not know if the Dalai Lama would be granted a visa, adding that the matter was in the hands of the country's international relations department.

Tutu's birthday celebrations will include a book launch on October 6 and a public church service followed by a picnic party on his actual birthday the next day.

The following day the Dalai Lama had been due to deliver Archbishop Tutu's 80th Birth Anniversary Inaugural Lecture.

China has always sought to curb the Dalai Lama's overseas travels, warning host governments that any visit would harm bilateral ties, especially if he was met by state officials.

"Wherever His Holiness goes, they make an attempt to block his visit," said Dalai Lama Spokesman Tempa Tsering.

Announcing the cancellation, the Dalai Lama's office said the Tibetan leader had no wish "to create any inconveniences to anyone, individuals or governments".

South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe last week made a four-day visit to China, where he signed a series of trade deals but made no mention of the visa issue.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.

© 2011 AFP

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