Tutu slams S.Africa over Dalai Lama visa row

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Tuesday his government was worse than the apartheid regime for dithering over a visa for the Dalai Lama, who cancelled a trip to South Africa over the row.

The anti-apartheid crusader had invited his longtime friend and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner to give an inaugural peace lecture as part of Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations in Cape Town this week.

But the Dalai Lama's office said the exiled Tibet spiritual leader, who was due to have left for South Africa on Thursday, decided to cancel the trip because he had yet to receive a visa.

In response, Tutu called a nationally televised news conference and lambasted President Jacob Zuma, warning he would pray for the downfall of the ruling African National Congress like he did for the white minority regime.

"When we used to apply for passports from the apartheid government, we never knew until the last moment what the decision was," Tutu said.

"Our government is worse than the apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government," he added.

"Our government, we were expecting that now we would have a government that was sensitive to the sentiments of our constitution."

Tutu said South Africans, who had enjoyed international backing in their struggle against the apartheid regime, should be on the side of other oppressed peoples.

"Tibet is being oppresssed. Our government, representing me, representing me, says it will not support Tibetans being oppressed viciously by the Chinese," he said.

"Hey Mr Zuma, you and your government don't represent me. You represent your own interests.

"I am warning you, one day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you, you are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood," he said.

"I am warning you that we will pray as we prayed for the downfall of the apartheid government, we will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us."

South Africa has denied there was any outside pressure on the visa application, and foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela insisted that normal procedures were followed.

"Unfortunately he's decided to pull out of the trip, which is his decision, and we have noted that decision," Monyela said.

But Tutu said: "Clearly, whether they say so or not, they were quite determined that they are not going to do anything that would upset the Chinese."

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".

But the Dalai Lama had been allowed to visit three times previously, and was personally welcomed by former president Nelson Mandela.

The row over the Dalai Lama's visit has cast a shadow over Tutu's birthday celebrations, which start with a book launch on Thursday and include a public church service followed by a picnic party on his actual birthday on Friday.

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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