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SA ban on Dalai Lama triggers furore

world Updated: Mar 24, 2009 10:18 IST

DPA
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The furore over South Africa's refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to attend a peace conference in Johannesburg later this week grew with former president and Nobel laureate FW de Klerk announcing on Monday he was boycotting the meeting.

"De Klerk will reluctantly not participate in the peace conference on March 27 and its associated activities if a visa is not granted to enable the Dalai Lama to attend the conference as well," the FW de Klerk foundation said in a statement Monday.

The Dalai Lama was part of a top billing of Nobel laureates, along with South African archbishop emeritus, Desmond Tutu, and former president Nelson Mandela, who had been due to participate in the 2010 World-Cup related conference on the power of football to foster peace.

Tutu has also refused to partake if the Dalai Lama is refused a visa and accused the government of "shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure".

The Norwegian Nobel Committee also said on Monday that it would stay away from the conference if the Tibetan spiritual guru was not granted a visa to South Africa.

"Since a former Peace Prize laureate is not allowed entry, we don't feel it would be correct to participate unless there is a quick reversal of the decision," Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland told Norwegian news agency NTB.

South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said on Sunday that the Dalai Lama had not been officially invited, saying it was not "in the country's best interest at this stage" to invite him.

The de Klerk foundation and the Dalai Lama's representatives have vigorously denied that he was not invited, saying he was invited in a letter signed by Tutu, de Klerk and former president and anti-apartheid icon, Mandela.

A spokesman for President Kgalema Motlanthe assured on Monday that the government "does not have a problem with the Dalai Lama" but that issuing him with a visa threatened to "remove the world's attention from the 2010 Soccer World Cup preparations".

"A visit now by the Dalai Lama would move the focus from South Africa onto issues in Tibet," spokesman Thabo Masebe claimed.

The government has denied interference by China in the decision but a Chinese embassy official in Pretoria told South Africa's Sunday Independent that his government had asked the government in Pretoria not to grant the visa on the basis that it would harm bilateral relations.

China is one of South Africa's leading trade partners and of the biggest investors on the continent, which supplies it with the oil and minerals it needs to fuel its growth.

Last week the billion-dollar China-Africa Development Fund opened its first Africa office in Johannesburg in the presence of South African presidential hopeful and ruling African National Congress party leader, Jacob Zuma.

The affair is embarrassing for the organisers of the World Cup, which is being held in Africa for the first time next year.

The Dalai Lama has visited South Africa twice before.

Tutu has written to current Motlanthe requesting an explanation.

The scandal comes on the 50th anniversary of a failed anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet, an autonomous Chinese region that the Chinese claims as part of its sovereign territory but which the Dalai Lama says was independent before being colonized by China.

After the uprising that was brutally suppressed, the Dalai Lama fled to India.