|Critics say South African authorities denied Dalai Lama a visa under Chinese pressure [AFP]|
The Dalai Lama has cancelled plans to visit South Africa to attend the birthday celebrations for Archbishop Desmond Tutu after failing to obtain a visa required to travel to the country.
The Tibetan spiritual leader cancelled his planned trip on Tuesday after a futile wait of more than a month for the visa. Applications for visas for him and his entourage had been submitted in late August.
He was scheduled to leave for South Africa on Thursday to take part in the 80th birthday ceremony of Tutu, his fellow Nobel laureate.
“For whatever reason or reasons, the South African government finds it inconvenient to issue a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” a statement from the Office of Tibet – the Tibetan government in exile – said in a statement.
South African authorities have come under criticism for denying the Dalai Lama a visitor’s visa. Critics say Pretoria took the step after being pressured by China, a close ally.
Beijing views the spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist who seeks to split the western region of Tibet from China and create an independent state. But the Dalai Lama denies the claim and criticises Beijing of repressing Tibet’s cultural and traditional traditions.
‘Reminiscent of apartheid era’
Tutu said in a statement last week the manner in which the Dalai Lama’s visa application was dealt with was reminiscent of the way authorities dealt with applications by black South Africans for travel under apartheid.
The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, an advocacy group co-founded by Tutu, and the Pretoria branch of the Office of Tibet, issued a joint statement calling the failure to issue the visa in a timely manner “profoundly disrespectful of two Nobel Peace laureates who are among the most revered spiritual leaders on earth”.
Rights groups, academics, opposition parties and newspapers in South Africa had pressed their government to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.
In a statement last week, Loyisa Nongxa, vice chancellor of Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, said that instead of trying to “silence” the Dalai Lama, South Africa should “welcome the opportunity and allow all voices to be heard in our democracy, a right for which we fought with our lives”.
The Sunday Times of Johannesburg newspaper said in a statement this week: “The government has dithered for weeks over the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visa application, leading to suspicion that Pretoria has once again been put under immense pressure by China not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit.”
The Dalai Lama was welcomed to South Africa in 1996 and met with the country’s first black and democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.
But in 2009, the South African government kept the Dalai Lama from attending a Nobel laureates’ peace conference, saying it would detract attention from the 2010 soccer World Cup.