Tuesday, March 24, 2009

S.Africa denies Dalai Lama visa over World Cup clash

South Africa said Monday the Dalai Lama has been denied a visa to meet here with other Nobel laureates, arguing his visit would overshadow the country's preparations to host the 2010 World Cup.
His exclusion has prompted the Oslo-based Nobel peace prize committee to announce that it would not participate in the peace conference organised in Johannesburg, unless the 1989 peace prize laureate is granted an entry visa.
"Unless the South African decision is rapidly changed we will not go," Lundestad said.

The Tibetan spiritual leader was billed to attend a Peace Conference this week, backed by the Nobel Peace Committee and hosted by South Africa's three surviving laureates, former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Both Tutu and De Klerk confirmed they would no longer be attending the conference, casting doubt on the conference.

"He has confirmed he is not attending," Tutu's spokeswoman Tamu Matose told AFP.

Addressing local media Tutu said: "We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed."

Former president De Klerk released a statement saying he would "reluctantly not participate in the peace conference... if a visa is not granted to enable the Dalai Lama to attend the conference as well."

The laureates were meant to discuss how soccer can help fight racism and xenophobia, as South Africa gears up for the 2010 World Cup.

But Thabo Masebe, spokesman for President Kgalema Motlanthe, told AFP that "there is no visa" for the Dalai Lama because his visit would draw attention away from the tournament.

Organisers of the conference had not consulted with the government before extending the invitation to the Dalai Lama, Masebe said.

"We in the South African government have not invited the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa, because it would not be in the interests of South Africa," he said.

"The attention of the world is on South Africa because of it being the host country for the 2010 World Cup, and we wouldn't want anything to distract from that," he added.

A spokesman for the spiritual leader said he was "very disappointed" by the decision.

"It is true that South Africa, under intense pressure from the Chinese authorities, have denied a visa to the Dalai Lama," spokesman Thubten Samphel told AFP in Dharamshala, India, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

"The Chinese government does not like any government to host the Dalai Lama because they feel his presence attracts media attention to the deplorable human rights conditions in Tibet," he said.

"African states are vulnerable to Chinese pressure because of huge Chinese investments there and so this is a case of business winning over human rights and good behaviour."

South African foreign ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa denied pressure from China had played a role in the visa being denied.

"What is critical to know is we are an independent sovereign country which makes independent sovereign decisions," he said.

During a 1999 visit to South Africa, then-president Thabo Mbeki refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, citing scheduling difficulties, but local media blamed Chinese pressure for the brush-off.

China's minister counsellor at the embassy in Pretoria, Dai Bing, was quoted as saying in local media that his government had urged South Africa to deny the visit or risk damaging bilateral relations.

Dai told the paper that it was an "inopportune time" for the Dalai Lama to visit, coming just after the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against China's rule of Tibet, which led to the exile of the region's most revered spiritual figure.

South Africa is China's key trading partner in Africa, accounting for 20.8 percent of the total volume of China-Africa trade in 2008 with total trade at some 100 billion rand (10 billion dollars).

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