S. Africa peace summit postponed after Dalai Lama row

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Monday he would boycott the conference.
An international peace conference in Johannesburg has been postponed after South Africa refused the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the event.

Announcing the postponement at a news conference Tuesday, Irvin Khosa, chairman of the South African football league, did not offer an explanation for the delay. A presidential spokesman had said earlier that the Dalai Lama — Tibet’s spiritual leader and a Nobel Laureate — did not receive a visa because it was not in South Africa’s interest for him to attend. South Africa thinks that, if the Dalai Lama attended the conference, the focus would shift away from the 2010 World Cup — the global soccer championship it will host next year. “We cannot allow focus to shift to China and Tibet,” said presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe, adding that South Africa has gained much from its trading relationship with China. Khosa made the announcement at a news conference also attended by Chief Mandla Mandela, grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Mandla Mandela said it was a sad day for the country’s democracy and the African continent that the South African government had denied the Dalai Lama a visa. South Africa should not succumb to international pressure, Mandela said.

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Dalai Lama denied visa

A representative of the Dalai Lama said he was not surprised by the visa refusal. The Tibetan government in exile thinks that China has pressured many countries to refuse a visit by the Dalai Lama, according to Chhime Chhoekyapa, an aide in Dharamsala, India. The Dalai Lama fled China in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. The peace conference was billed as an opportunity to showcase South Africa’s role as a human-rights champion ahead of its hosting the World Cup.

It was to bring together Nobel laureates and top soccer officials. Archbishop Desmond Tutu; former President F.W. De Klerk; laureates Nelson Mandela and Martti Ahtisaar; Seff Blatter, president of soccer’s international governing body; and actress Charlize Theron were among those invited. The event had the blessing of the Nobel Committee.