Dalai Lama refused South African visa


Several Nobel peace prize laureates have threatened to boycott a conference in South Africa after Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was denied a visa.

He was to join Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu, Martti Ahtisaari and FW de Klerk, as well as Norway's Nobel Peace Committee, at the conference scheduled for March 27th.

"If the Dalai Lama doesn't come, I'm not going . . . I'm very disappointed," Tutu told Reuters.

South Africa's Sunday Independentsaid his visa was refused due to pressure from the Chinese government. Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment. China has been on a major investment drive in Africa and is an important trade partner.

Government spokesman Thabo Masebe said the Dalai Lama's presence in South Africa was not in the country's best interest at the moment.

The conference was expected to use soccer as a way of fighting xenophobia and racism ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

"The attention of the world on us is in relation to us hosting the World Cup next year and we would like that to remain . . . the presence of the Dalai Lama would bring other issues into attention," Mr Masebe told Reuters.

South Africa has prided itself as a model of democracy and human rights since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and set up a Tibetan government-in-exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He was invited to participate in the conference by Tutu, De Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela.

"Mr De Klerk identifies with the position of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and will reconsider his participation in the World Cup event should the South African government go ahead with a decision not to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama," the SAPA news agency quoted Mr De Klerk's spokesman as saying.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the peace prize annually in Oslo, also criticised the South African decision.